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African Rapunzel

black hair as a veil into the African women’s soul

“I have an audition tomorrow, ” Wanda said to Wode,” they asked me to send a picture. I did, but… I haven’t told them I no longer have the hairstyle I had on the picture.

I don’t know, aarph.

I should have just kept it for one more day. You know?

I just don’t think..” *shrugs*

“I just don’t think they’ll think I’m as beautiful with my natural hair.”

Almost to highlight that they wouldn’t think so, but perhaps she might dare to. You know? She might take the risk and think of herself as beautiful.

In the distant future when she believed-it-believed-it she had a list of things she would do with it on. She’d travel to another province or another country with her natural hair. Go to a friends wedding with her natural hair. To her graduation with her natural hair. In the distant future, she might take the risk and walk up the aisle, to the altar to say “I do”  with her natural hair. Continue reading “African Rapunzel”

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I sensed that China offered something different, something new, something beautiful: a year of study in China

In 2016 I was one of four Africans selected to attend the first master’s programme in China Studies at the prestigious Yenching Academy of Peking University. My reflections on a year of new experiences and lasting impressions.Alice Fong and Sihle Nontshokweni at Sichuan OperaAlice Fang and Sihle Nontshokweni at Sichuan Opera.

This article was first published on IAPO

Of all the places in the world, why move to China?”

I can’t count the number of times friends, colleagues and family asked me that same question. “Someone like you could gun for the Ivy League,” said my former boss, in an attempt to sway me from what he considered an ill-considered decision. I was stumped: no response was good enough as a justification. I mean, apart from Bruce Lee movies, the ’made in China’ trademark, and, more seriously, China’s rise and growing interest in Africa, what did I know about China? But it was this curiosity and the intrigue of the unknown that sparked a flame and compelled me to explore this vast unknown that is China.

From a distance, I sensed that it offered something different, something new, something beautiful.

Now, a Peking University graduate, I look back on the year spent studying in China and the words exhilarating, enlightening and dynamic are the first to come to mind.

I was one of four Africans in a program of 91 learners from across the world selected in 2015 for the inaugural master’s programme in China Studies at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. The aim of this interdisciplinary programme is to bring together the brightest young minds from all over the globe.

The Yenching Academy has created an intensive learning environment for students to explore the past, present and future role of China in the world. In doing so, the academy aims to stand at the forefront of shaping a new generation of global leaders who have a more nuanced understanding of China and its role in the world. The programme offered an array of interdisciplinary courses on China within broadly defined fields of the humanities and social sciences. The academic support and mentorship, especially by supervisors with the thesis, was impeccable.

Sichuan Opera
Yenching class at Sichuan Opera.

Overall, China leaves a lasting impression on its visitors. Beijing is captivating, if at times smoggy. Nonetheless, the experience can only be described as unique but it is difficult to articulate why this is so. Perhaps it’s the newness of the experience, the cultural and geographical differences, the dissimilarities in the language, not being able to read signposts, altering one’s palate to appreciate a previously unimaginable food taste and texture. The combination of these multiple differences reel you in. They demand that you learn by reflecting on your own lived experience, that you question your known ways of doing things and readapt your world-views.

The feeling of being in a crowded, eclectic city like Beijing is incomparable. There is a synergy amongst the community of curious Africans in China. I shared many enlightening conversations with other curious bodies with a similar penchant for exploring and living. I marvelled at the Chinese’s efficient use of technology through apps like WeChat. There are the small joys of living in a foreign country: like that moment of realising how far your language practice has come when you successfully converse in Mandarin with a cab driver or a shopkeeper. Other simple moments, like standing over a bridge and watching the gridlock of buses, cars and taxis tangled up in evening traffic in the Zhongguancun area, all added to the remarkable experience that is life in China. Travelling around Asia was also a wonderful opportunity; visiting Tibet was undoubtedly my most memorable trip.

To read more about these travel experiences and other exciting China adventures check out a blog, From Africa to China, that I co-founded with the other Africans on the program, Wadeisor Rukato, Thuthukile Mbanjwa and Nothando Khumalo where we explore travels in China and the Africa-China relationship.

Written by Sihle Nontshokweni

Edited by Natalie Simon

 

Continue reading “I sensed that China offered something different, something new, something beautiful: a year of study in China”

The Value of Journaling

“There are places like this everywhere,
places you enter as a young girl
from which you never return.”

Whenever grown-ups spoke, I often forgot to whisper or disappear. It took some time before I understood that my mother’s home was not a democracy. That my words were only welcomed upon invitation, particularly when we had guests.

Growing up my two older sisters gave me the confidence to be. I would simply let myself be, either of the two – depending on the day. Though they had lives of their own, it mattered to me that they invited me in, even at the end just so we could all laugh, huddle together – in a shared world. If they shut me out, I mildly hid or looked away to pretend I did not mind this exclusion.

My late father had made it his supreme goal to have his children attend the best schools. So at the tender age of six, I moved to hostel, a city away from home. It was 1996, the year the South African Schools Act (SASA) repealed discriminatorily charged legislation, allowing for children of color to be admitted into formerly closed schools.

We registered, had dorm rooms allocated to us. Mom dropped me off with all necessities in my suitcase, toiletries, towels, new toothbrush. With other six years olds I learned how to make my own bed here. We learned how to jump off from our top bunks to the ground without breaking a leg. We were raised here, in our uniforms; trained through break bells and saying grace. We were rewarded with tuck goodies; regulated through prep and bedtimes. Some nights, our heads would hang, held up by hands-on cheeks as we chatted and chuckled past lights out.

Home Going Continue reading “The Value of Journaling”

A Woman’s Day Conversation

I spent woman’s day with fabulous women who chose to open up their deep baskets and tenderly share of themselves. Our conversations ranged from body image to our sense of self, to that initial moment it occurred that actually “I’m a woman.” We conversed on our use of time,  and at the end wrote out our eulogies [scripting how on our last day on this earth we would wish to have lived out our lives].

Afterward, I chatted to Wode about how enriching it was to be surrounded by thought provoking women, whilst lying on a rooftop overlooking table mountain, bathing in the sun, engaging attentively.

Similar to what dad often said in distress, Wode responded: “Oh women talk, they talk, they just like to talk.”

I chuckled at his sentiments. I have heard this said by men far too often. They do not know that these deliberate conversations:

Open up the frontiers of our minds

admonish our spirits

edify our souls 

replenish our bodies 

offering thoughtful clarity & direction unto us

reinvigorating us with the energy to examine & live out our truths once more

Mom says, this thing of sharing ourselves – is how we stay sane and less stressed as women. Through our conversations, we see and feel our plentifulness and scarcity – recognize our questions and answers. These are delightful moments of becoming. 

This woman’s Day Conversation with Prof Kgethi Phakeng is a similar embodiment. Kgethi, a woman who is wild at heart, with a soul so tender, loaded with creativity, zest & intelligence. She shares with us her becoming. I hope that in listening to her edifying words, you’d be reminded of loving yourself – reserving patience and grace to adorn your soul. I hope that you would be reminded of the tenants of fruitfulness and pure authenticity [honesty to self].

Happy Women’s Day Maqhawekazi. Mbokodo. Source.

You are fearfully & wonderfully made! 

Positions of Power toward the Poor

Us who have “…are doomed to think that everything comes from us…”

There I was, in full swing, past Debonairs in Rondebosch, attending to heaps of administrative tasks on Tuesday morning. From certifying documents at the Police station, forced laughter towards the police officers flirtatiousness. Humph, such impositions are the ways of living in a body, a woman’s – body, thus of being in South Africa. I certainly can’t remember the last time I asked for an affidavit or a document to be certified without mildly rolling my eyes beneath that small-mesh talk.

Moving on, I have been living in Cape Town, Southern suburbs for 8 years. Nothing about the landscape is strange to me, the tarred roads, the numerous fast food restaurants lined on either side of the road, the Somalian elderly man who sells cigarets and sweets opposite clicks; I know the faces of the homeless men and women on the street far too well. So well that If I spotted one of them in town or Kenilworth, I’d easily say, “Oh ya, lo bhuti, ngowase Rondebosch neh (he is the guy from Rondebosch right)?!”

south-africa-cape-town-drone-photography-bloubosrandkya-sands
© Johnny Miller/Millefoto

I’m getting things done today, cutting straight past beggars on the street.

Continue reading “Positions of Power toward the Poor”

Review: ‘When breath becomes air,’ Dr. Kalanithi a Præmaturi death

What makes life worth living in the face of death?

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“Proof that the dying have the most to teach us about living.” Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

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There aren’t many words I can conjure to describe the anguish and empathy I felt for 36-year old – neurosurgeon – diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer – faced with the grave reality of death.

This brilliance of this book, the breadth of experiences shared in it and the passionate style of writing by the author prompted an overwhelming response in me.

Continue reading “Review: ‘When breath becomes air,’ Dr. Kalanithi a Præmaturi death”

|5 Youth whose art =| Thought Leadership & Activism

The powerful relationship between artistic production and political culture in the World can not be underestimated. To quote Nina Simone:

“It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.”

This post explores 5 young artists who effectively use different media to work for social justice. As we imagine what the world can be like,  art is an effective instrument for altering the way people see the world. It has a kind of rawness and subtilty that can turn our indifference into activism, encouraging us to fine tune our sense and commitment to what is just(ice).

For instance, you may not have thought deeply about migration until you read Warsan Shire’s poem home and began to envisage homes having become the mouths of sharks, families running fast towards the border, further from their homes, blood in their throats, fathers tightly holding the minute bodies of their children with tears in their eyes and passports in their grip. Thus art is a cultural strategy, to shift the way people engage with the world. In their own disciplines, each of these young people is doing the work of evoking conversation and provoking thoughtfulness with their audiences. Undoubtedly, there are many others, these are just a few whose work has informed my consciousness lately.  Continue reading “|5 Youth whose art =| Thought Leadership & Activism”

Fatherhood, Broken masculinities & regaining hope

Hello 🍏crunchers 

Are you well? Breathing? Thriving? Self Aware? In tune with self and all those important qualities which aid in living peacefully with self? It is a great joy to share this conversation on fatherhood, absent fathers, broken masculinities, counsel for those who seek to be fathers and regaining hope from manhood to fatherhood. To the young men who desire to be father’s Tata says:

For you to be a father, it is going to depend on how you became a man”

Further for those who have had to carry the burden of fathering sisters & mothers, utata acknowledges the depressive burden and the weight of such pain. To this end, he encourages finding safe places, people with whom you can be vulnerable. Without such, no-one knows how far the cracks have gone.  (Listen in 11:32)

To the young women, utata encourages

a sense of  knowing who you are, a strong self concept, to look at yourself and love yourself even in difficult times. Plus, self forgiveness and a strong spiritual foundation.

Continue reading “Fatherhood, Broken masculinities & regaining hope”