This is a blog about me and the things that make me laugh, smile, hurt or cry!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness - How to do a Breast Self-Examination

October is Breast Cancer awareness month. As with all serious illnesses, early detection is the key. If more women got into the habit of performing a monthly breast self-exam eight days into your monthly cycle (that's about a week from the first day of your monthly period), then we would be able to save more lives due to early detection and early treatment.

Source - Pink Ribbon International

I have been searching for a good image on how to do a breast self-exam all month and I have finally found one. Thanks to South African natural hair blog, Fro Chic, for pointing me in the right direction.

Source - Summit Medical Group

Share this with all the women in your life, especially ALL those aged 35 years and older. All women above 35 should be having a mammogram annually. But, 12 months may be too long to wait to detect a problem, so a monthly breast self-exam is an essential practice to develop.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Relay For Life 2012

It's October, which means it is breast cancer awareness month. The Zambian Cancer Society is organising the 2nd Annual Relay for Life event. This is a fun relay activity perfect for groups of ten that will take place at the Olympic Youth Development Centre from 16hrs on 13th October, right through the night to 06hrs on 14th October. This is because cancer never sleeps. 

For more details, contact the Zambian Cancer Society on +260 978 669 164 or email: or visit their website:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Paying The Help - Minimum wage for domestic workers in Zambia

Recently, the main conversation topic in Zambia has been the plight of thousands of middle class educated elite who feel they can no longer afford to exploit the labour of other less privileged and less educated Zambians in their homes, kitchens, nurseries and gardens.
As some background, the government of Zambia recently announced a major increase in minimum wages for domestic workers, general workers, shop workers, security guards etc. The move was widely praised by some (and covered positively in the state controlled media), while understandably opposed by Zambia Federation of Employers and others. You can read the Zambia Daily Mail's take here. Following the public's response, Vice President Dr Guy Scott insisted in Parliament that there would be no job losses. A promise that is impossible to keep. Read what the Times of Zambia had to say about it here
I am currently away from Zambia and when I saw the constant stream of Facebook and BBM status updates about domestic workers' pay, I was concerned that the new minimum wage for domestic workers would be somewhere in the region of K800,000 to K1,000,000 ($160 to $200) or more. I was baffled by the outrage, when I learned that the increment for domestic workers was from K250,000 ($50) to only K500,000 ($100). I am disappointed in Zambians. Do we think that 500 pin is too much to pay someone who works six days a week? Who cooks and cleans up after you? Who raises your children on your behalf? Really? One Hundred Dollars is too much to do work that you can't or won't do?

There are a number of sub-issues in this debate that I am not going to address in any depth here. I will only list some of them to illustrate that I am aware of them:
  1. There is a finite amount of money in circulation, so if people have to be paid more, either prices go up or some people get laid off. Definitely both will occur
  2. The reduced job market will mean that people will become more desperate and therefore more vulnerable to seek other means of livelihood. This could be engaging in criminal activity or lead some into further exploitative, slave-like conditions in certain work places or activities
  3. People who are already doing too much will be burdened with even more work because employers can't afford to engage more staff or because the stingy boss will use this as a convenient excuse to NOT pay people due compensation for their labour
I have only listed three things (there are of course more). None are why I have an issue with my fellow Zambians on this subject: 
  • People don't want to share
  • People have double standards
  • People have little respect for justice, for fairness and for human dignity
  • But mainly, people are just plain selfish!
I think my current maid is great. I have been fortunate. I had to go through 10 other maids before I found her. My first maid was great too. Josephine was 17 or 18 (perhaps older or younger). She worked at my friend's house during the week and at my place on Saturdays. I lived in an SQ (servant's quarters) and paid her K10,000 per day ($2). When we had a vacancy for a cleaner at my office, I approached my friend who graciously agreed to let her go to a better paying, less intense job in an office. However, she continued to work for me on Saturday's until she got married and moved to another town. 

Sadly, I can't remember the next few maids, whether their names or anything about them, other than that they came two to three times a month. I know that at times, I managed without a maid for a few months. This should have been 2005 into 2006 and then up to 2008. During this period, I moved from Lusaka to the Eastern province of Zambia. Again, I had someone to come in on Saturday's to wash clothes and do a bit of dusting. I did my own ironing and general cleaning. I lived alone and was rarely home, so once a week was enough. In 2008, I moved back to Lusaka into a much bigger house, had way more stuff and was earning enough money to get someone to come in 3 times a week. She worked for my sister the other days of the week. She was a great house keeper, but she had a horrible attitude. I think her previous employers were really fancy because she refused (yes, she refused), to clean the floors without tile cleaner. Simple washing paste wasn't good enough. I also had to buy shower spray and other cleaning products, which basically do the same thing as detergent paste. My sister had a young child and so did she, so she helped herself to my nephew's clothes. She also ate me out of house and home. Not eating to be satisfied, but carrying some home. If there was no bread, she fried herself chips that she ate with mayonnaise. When you are stealing, you usually don't realise when you are stealing alone. And because I lived alone for some of the time she was there, it was easy for me to tell what she was taking home with her. I'm not for being chummy chummy with my maids -- but this one wouldn't even say good morning on some days. She had to go. 

Next was probably my favourite. Matilda was in her late teens and had a bubbly personality which melted my heart. She was great with laundry and got along with everyone in my household. But, like most young people, she had aspirations and just didn't want to be a maid. Unlike many others, she had the courtesy to tell me and brought a friend to take over. The friend didn't last. She wanted to earn the money, but not have to work for it. She didn't turn up one day. Then, I turned to a friend's trusted maid of 5 or 6 years to recommend someone. She sent me an older lady who unfortunately suffered from ill-health. She was always off work and when she came had no energy to work. She sent her younger sister (or daughter, I can't recall) to take over. Tina reminded me so much of Matilda. But, she didn't last long either. She managed to find a college place and move on to a better occupation. Her sister took over. In contrast, she was surly and resented the fact that circumstances forced her to work as a maid in order to make a living. She showed that resentment in her work until one day she got paid and didn't return the next day. Then, I asked my next door neighbour's very helpful and long serving gardener to find me someone. She probably stayed the longest -- about two years. But that time was fraught with sit-down sessions to discuss time-keeping, the work itself, attitude etc. Finally, I had enough and let her go. 

I then turned to a maid centre. They gave me a few ladies to interview. I settled on the incumbent. Her previous employers had moved to another town and the maid centre manager recommended her because she was hardworking and diligent. She has been earning the new minimum wage (K500,000) from day one, because the maid centre told me that was what was considered fair pay.

My purpose in telling my maid story was to show that I know what good maids and bad maids are. But, the basic conditions are not supposed to be dependent on whether you like someone or whether they work well or not. For example, even evil maid was entitled to leave, time off for funerals and to attend sick children. And, although it's a perk and not an entitlement, I gave her a half-bonus (on account of her evilness) because she had kids and they deserved a little extra for Christmas, regardless of their evil Mum. Since she stole for them, I'm assuming she shared with them too.

I work hard for my money and I expect my maid to do the same. I take a mother's day once in a while (three or four times a year) to visit the doctor or sit at home and do nothing if that's what I want. My maid has that right too. I expect leave, and I give my maid leave. In my ten year working life I have been known to call in sick with a minor headache once or twice. Should I be outraged if once in a while my maid does the same?
It disappoints me that many of those complaining about paying the people who clean up after them and raise their kids, USD100, think nothing of putting in fake Brazilian hair weave for USD400 a pop. If the law pegs minimum wage for domestic workers beyond your salary then guess what? The cost of living has gone up and you need to adjust your budget accordingly. We must pay people fair wages and accept that times have changed. The same people who complain that the government is not doing enough to develop the economy, are whining about the new minimum wage because it is inconceivable to them that the benefits of economic growth should trickle down to others. They argue that Zambia is a poor country and therefore people are supposed to be paid peanuts and should be grateful for it too.

Our people have a sense of entitlement that is shocking. Not just maids, but their bosses in offices who want to earn a living but not work hard for it and yet expect their workers to do more than they are willing to do. Poor work ethic in Zambia is a national problem that applies to employees at every level from Chilenje to state house and I refuse to attribute it to maids only. We are all poor workers. Each and every one of those people expects to get a fair wage and maids are no different. So the argument that some maids are lazy and therefore they should be paid peanuts does not hold water in my view. The fact is, this is the 21st century and as has happened in other more developed countries, the passage of time and growth of the economy means that affording domestic help will slowly become a luxury that only a few can afford. That's the way it is SUPPOSED to be.
Earlier this year in the Lusaka Book Club, we read The Help (also an Oscar winning movie). It is about racial discrimination in the American deep south. The book is set just before the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King etc really took off and focuses on the relationships between white southern women and the black maids who they trusted to raise their children, clean their homes and cook their food, but whom they refused to share toilets with. What struck everyone in the discussion was that there was almost NO DIFFERENCE between the white women's racist and hypocritical treatment of their black maids and the way WE, the middle class educated black elite treat our illiterate or semi-literate workers. When it is about looking down on someone because of the colour of their skin, it is wrong. But when it is about class and social-economic status, we just say that is how it is. These are the exact same excuses used to justify slavery hundreds of years ago, apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation laws in the United States. It was a sobering thought for us all.

Soon after that, I came across a guest post on another blog that I follow, which focuses primarily on natural African hair in Nigeria. The guest blogger was a PhD candidate researching domestic workers in Nigeria. It's quite a long article, with some great comments and I encourage you to take time to read it and see that this 'problem' is not confined to Zambia alone:

"Unfortunately, the people that see my research as a way forward in Nigeria are very few and far between. Majority feel I am wasting my time speaking to the ‘house-helps’. I cannot count the number of times I have been told that domestic workers themselves were the problem and if I had to do the research I should be speaking to employers so I could hear the stories of the ‘nanny who gave her Madam’s children AIDS’, the ‘housegirl who bewitched her Oga and kicked the Madam out of the house’, and ‘the wicked nanny who kidnapped her Madam’s baby’."
I wrote a comment similar to what I said above about the parallels between The Help and our own relationships with domestic workers in Zambia. A reply from the researcher, Zahrah echoed my thoughts. She wrote:

"I constantly have this discussion that the issue of race and domestic work found in the USA in the ’50s between white employers and black workers is very similar to the issue in most African countries. The only difference is that race is substituted with class and in some cases ethnicity. In domestic work (as in slavery, apartheid and all that you mentioned), difference is usually used to emphasise superiority and inferiority – be it difference in terms of race, class, economic status and even gender."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Appreciating Indigenous Knowledge

Soon after I started this blog, I also established a sister blog to document my journey into caring for and styling natural hair. ZedHair (titled It's Natural), takes about ten times as much time and effort as this personal blog, so that is my explanation for not blogging as frequently as I would like.

Below is a post that originally appeared on ZedHair in March of this year, that I think has value beyond those who are part of the online natural African hair community.

My reason for sharing it is because the more I learn about health and wellness, the more I am coming back to positive traditional practices (some of our cultural rituals and beliefs are harmful and retrogressive). The sad thing is that I am learning them from foreign sources across oceans and continents.


The Value of Indigenous Hair-care and Knowledge

Yesterday was a whirlwind day. What began as a by the way conversation with someone at the office turned into something with infinitely more possibilities.

As a gender activist, I apologise for the bare boobs, I generally oppose publishing such shots as I think it is unnecessary. However, it is the only one in my collection (as in, pictures that I took myself, with my own camera), that depicts the red clay that initiates traditionally wear in their hair while in seclusion. Unfortunately, this picture was taken at the annual Likumbi Lya Mize traditional ceremony and so the amount of clay in the hair was more for show than genuinely authentic. Normally, there would be so much clay that you wouldn't even be able to see the hair. It would just be red clay caked on the head.

A mwali (female initiate) of the Luvale people in Northwestern Zambia. That's ma peeps right there y'all
So, what is it about the clay?

I have recently started using a bentonite clay face mask which I had to purchase from the health food store. So far it isn't working. But, I digress.

I was having a chat with a lady in our building who has been concerned about traction alopecia. She cut her hair down to a TWA, but still suffers from the long-term effects of common styling methods. I mentioned that I had read on the internet about people rubbing/massaging Jamaican black castor oil into their hairless patches, usually on the temples. She remarked, "Castor oil? You mean like the one our grandmothers used and that they still use in the village?" My ears perked up and I urgently leaned forward in my chair. "What do you mean by "like the one our grandmothers used?". She went on to explain how it grows in the back yard and that you can plant some today and it will sprout in no time. Back in the village, they dry roast the seed/nut and then pound and press it to force out the oil. A similar process to that used in making sunflower oil. You boil it with water until the oil rests on top. Next, you take a chicken feather and glide it across to collect the oil (oil and water don't mix, if you remember). Then you take your fingers and slide them over the feather and into a dish/cup/bowl to collect the oil. Repeat until only water remains. The oil keeps a long time (doesn't go rancid), and a small bottle lasts for ages as you only need a little to moisturise your hair.

I asked her about other traditional hair-care remedies and she mentioned the clay that is put in the hair of initiates while they are in seclusion. When they came out, she said, once washed, their hair was always so soft and had really grown. After initiation, it was common for women and girls to continue to treat (deep condition) their hair in this way.

I have read on mainly American blogs, about experiences of black Americans who have traveled to Africa, thinking that they were coming to the home of healthy hair-care practices, with natural, unprocessed and pure ingredients; only to be disappointed that in most parts of Africa (except Ethiopia), we generally treat our hair very badly, do not take care of it at all, and wouldn't know the first thing about indigenous products and techniques. Sadly, this doesn't only apply to hair-care, but to many other areas as well, where we are only now beginning to embrace our own heritage and acknowledge the value of the traditional ways of doing things. Think of how traditional medicine and foods have made a comeback as part of the response to HIV an AIDS. However, this was only after it was legitimised by some western educated professor and rubber stamped by USAID and other such organisations. We still have a long way to go.

I remain super excited about that conversation as it opened up the possibility of so much information and knowledge out there waiting to be shared. I will be investigating more about this issue and taking time to speak to my mother and grandmother to learn more. I am also waiting for my consignment of home made castor oil and clay to come in from the village. I cannot wait to try them out.

NB: The above post first appeared on on 14th March, 2012


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Loud and Clear Review of the Year 2011

I will approach my personal 2011 news re-cap from two fronts:
1. The ones that I genuinely remember off the top of my head, and
2. The ones that I recall after some online research, checking through which news links I posted on Facebook, articles I commented on etc.
Charlie Brooker (a columnist at The Guardian UK), described 2011 as being like an end-of-season finale. I have to agree with Charlie on this one. This year was a rollercoaster of nail-biting, action-packed, edge of your seat news stories. In the end, I felt lazy to research a real blow by blow account of the months. I will kick myself later, when I remember some important stuff that I would have loved to document for posterity's sake. Anyhoo, here is my take on 2011.
The Jasmine Revolution
Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc) -- The Time magazine Person of the Year was The Protester and I so agreed with this. Tunisia in January captured all our hearts because here was a country where you don't normally hear much of anything other than football. Together with Egypt, Tunisia boasts the top two African Football clubs in terms of silverware. What followed in Egypt was equally fascinating. Libya was not so great, but it meant something. The struggle continues for our comrades in Yemen and Syria. 

In Southern Africa, our thoughts turned to Zimbabwe and whether or not this would inspire similar movements in our neighbouring country. I was and remain skeptical. In Zimbabwe, I think there are too many people who benefit from the status quo to really change things. I think they must get a lot worse in order to get better. 

However, what happened to our other neighbours in Malawi shocked us all. Generally, Zambians are considered peaceful, laid back people. If this is what we are (very accurate description, more inclined to passivity though), then I really don't know how we would describe Malawians? That our brethren across the border should resort to rioting and marching on the streets was a wake-up call that things were mighty bad. I certainly had no idea that things had gotten so bad as to make our comrades demonstrate. We just don't do that sort of thing here, without extreme provocation. The scenes we witnessed in July were testament to me that things had been brewing for a while and our comrades just couldn't take it anymore.
That Kiss...
The Royal Wedding -- I attended a viewing party. I was all set for a week of wedding news, when two days later, it was upstaged by one of THE biggest stories of the year, being the killing of Osama Bin Laden by some Jack Bauer wannabe Navy Seals. The movies can NEVER live up to the drama of real life.
I took this picture from my car window, the morning after the results of the election were announced
Zambia Election -- September 20th, 2011 was a day when Zambia once again showed the world that in some areas, we stand apart from most other African nations. It is not often that a sitting president is defeated, considering he has all the powers of the state, including military, financial and propaganda at his disposal. Equally, it is not often that a defeated president accepts that defeat and steps aside without force. I think it is sad that people have failed credit RB with not doing what so many others could or would have done. 

Last September, we witnessed what determination can achieve. Michael Sata has been in the opposition for a good ten years. There was no other voice speaking up for the people and giving an alternative to the state rhetoric. He was the most effective opposition leader we have had and for that I will miss him. 
Manchester United -- Need I say more? I don't think so.

Japan -- The scenes of aerial photography showing the large scale destruction from Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan are forever etched in my memory.
Number ONE at last!
Novak Djokovic attains the No. 1 stop in men's tennis. I was so happy for him to finally get what he has worked so hard to achieve. He won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open.

Onwards and Upwards to 2012
What major events am I looking forward to in 2012? Again, these are those that I just know are the things I am genuinely looking forward to in this coming year. There are a whole load of other things, but that will require some kind of research, reading up etc and I'm so tired (or lazy), perhaps both.

The Avengers -- This movie comes out in May 2012. I'm not sure I know why I am so stoked for this film, but I am really looking forward to it.

2012 US Election -- after the drama of 2008, I really do hope that Barack makes it to another term. The US elections always reminds me of how alike the world is and how politics is a dirty game EVERYWHERE you go and that issue-based campaigning and elections may not exist anywhere actually. 

Also, bi-partisanship is a myth, a fantasy. I wonder if Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity can be revived. I am confident that we will need to see a revival Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear slogans such as "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler".
London 2012
London 2012 Olympic Games -- I would have loved to have been there, but sadly did not make it. I made it for a world cup, the Olympics is next. Perhaps Rio 2016 will be mine.
My country tis of thee...
Life in the Pabwato Kingdom -- as a Zambian, the biggest story of last year was the election that was a peaceful revolution, resulting in a new government. I and my countrymen and women look forward to the next five years in hopes that our lives will be better. By that I mean less corrupt, more equitable distribution of development, freedom of expression and accountable leadership.