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I remember when my sister came to stay with me in London and I was throwing a barbecue, I asked her how to clean the barbecue stand and she said she didn’t know. I asked her how we do it in Zambia because I couldn’t remember ever cleaning one and we loved throwing braiis (as it’s called in southern Africa). Her response, ‘Mr Lungu does it’.

This was my re-introduction into the lifestyle of many people in Zambia. Obviously coming home for holidays, the maids aren’t new to me but actually seeing how there is literally someone to do nearly everything you need doing was a bit of a ‘wow’ moment. I get my bags taken out of the car when I get to the office, get my tea made for me, my lunch brought for me, the grocery shopping done. Actually, I really don’t have to do much. If it wasn’t that the maid’s cooking leaves much to be desired, I wouldn’t even have to cook! It’s easy to get into a lifestyle that really doesn’t require you doing much, but become a woman of leisure (outside of official working hours of course).

Even yesterday, Mary was slightly mortified by me packing my own bags in the supermarket – not because she can’t do it, but rather, why would you want to do?

I think I could enjoy living here.

I’ve put myself on a shopping ban, not because I really wanted to but because people were saying my shopping was excessive.

I disagree. I’m a very focussed shopper, I see what I want and I buy it. I actually hate shopping, so it’s rare than you’ll see me shopping for hours, that’s only if I end up with the real shopaholic – Mwitwa. That girl can shop! And she really enjoys it!

My real problem is that I’m a spendaholic. I feel the need to spend money. Before I’d spend money going out (drinks on me for everybody!) or buying food (ha! and I wonder how I put on all the weight). But then I looked around and thought I had nothing to show for the money I earned. Really stupid, in retrospect.

So that’s how my interest in shopping started. It started with cute dresses from H&M, and DP, then I moved up to Zara, and then Karen Millen. As I earned more money I started wanting the things I saw on TV, or the stuff that R&B and rappers talked about (really a big mistake). When I bought my first pair of Jimmy Choos, I felt a high, you couldn’t imagine. I felt like my hard work was paying off. What little girl doesn’t dream of a pair of Choos. Because I’m the classical kind of girl, I wanted Choos more than I wanted the more trendy and fashionable red bottoms of Christian Louboutains.

Ever since then I’ve craved that high again, and I only seem to find it when I get a high-price item. But my friends think I spend excessively, so I got to the point where I don’t tell them what I’ve bought and hope they don’t open my closest when they come to my house!

I do find it frustrating that people question my spending habits, but if I’m not putting it on a credit card, then why can’t I buy it? I like buying these designer or expensive items because it does give me a sense of pride, that I’ve worked this hard and have this purchasing power.

But more recently I’ve had another lightbulb moment. It’s all well and good to have this stuff for my own personal pleasure, but how is it helping my personal net worth?

Recently I bought my first car – a Landrover (a Freelander actually) – second hand, but I was still so chuffed, felt quite grown up. I got it because of my move to Zambia, need wheels, unlike in London which has a relatively good, but frustrating public transport system. And that led me to thinking, if I can get a car, I can get a house!

Now that I’m focussed on getting my first house in Lusaka, I do have to kerb my spending, but every once in a while, I slip but I’m trying to be strong. It’s also hard when shopping for expensive goods gives me so much pleasure! I have to try and focus on the pleasure I’ll get from shopping for accessories for my house!

In 2011, I hope more people will stop listening to these songs and think buying the Gucci, Prada and the Louis is important and start focusing on increasing our personal net worth.

I was so excited to be asked to come and volunteer my time at a TeenSpirit event tonight. TeenSpirit is the youth service of Boyd and Soul, which is a charity that works with people and families living with or affected by HIV. TeenSpirit is specifically for 13-19 year olds and tonight is a career skills evening, which allows these teenages to get career advice, explore career interests and engage with professional in a networking format. The idea is to inspire these kids to explore different professions and motivate them to reach their full potential.

I was absolutely thrilled to participate in this for many reasons: 1) it’s for young people affected by HIV, 2) it’s about mentoring/motivating young people in their careers, 3) it’s an opportunity to give young people of colour professional and positive role models. Three things I care about.

Last night I started thinking about what I should wear. I thought about wearing a nice power-suit type outfit, but then I’d feel too corporate and stuffy and maybe not in line with the MTV image, same thing if it was my high waisted pants, or shift dress, or pencil skirt. Then I thought about my leggings and over-the knee boots with a cute top, but then that might be too hoochie-fied and everyone who knows me knows I’m very big on how your appearance conveys a message, and dressing for the job you want etc.

It reminded me of a time, when I was younger and bought way too much into the MTV image and met one of T-Pain’s management team poolside in a swanky Miami hotel, in a bikini and sarong. At the time, I thouhgt it made sense, it was a saturday, it was freakin hot and it was an informal meet and greet. Now that I’m older and wiser, I shudder to think what impression I made on him. He is on my facebook friend’s list but we don’t really talk…

So I decided to do somewhere in between, fitted jeans, nice top and heels. It’s important to put across a good image of yourself and be respectful of the people you’re meeting with. They might be kids but doesn’t mean I need to disrespect them by not bothering with my appearance. I mean if they speak to me, that’s one of the things I’ll stress.

I’m definitely looking forward to tonight. Maybe it will be something I can take back to Zambia to implement as well. Kids need role models, period.

With just over four more weeks until I’m heading back to Zambia, I’m beginning to feel the pressure. I still haven’t identified a shipping company, my brother said he’d help me because I couldn’t select a company just based on nice website and good price (er, what else should I be looking for?). And well the different companies have told me it will take about 60 days to get to Lusaka, but now I’ve been hearing horror stories of containers arriving five months later! Not sure I can live without all my shoes for five months, what if I need a pair?

So that’s my biggest headache right now. I’ve pretty much cancelled all my services – thankfully did it this week, as most of them required 30 days notice! Actually that’s just my media services… still that’s done, just gas/electric and council tax. Yay, the to-do list is getting smaller. But the most important stuff is still on the list.

I’ve had my wardrobe cleansed (love that term) and now know what missing items I need before I move to more conservative Zambia – blouses! I didn’t realise how obsessed I was with vests until I did this. Two days later, I had a fashion emergency and had to buy a top – because I was already out of the house, and guess what I bought? A vest! lol.

Going through all my clothes, I realised I don’t have an outfit for this kitchen party I’m going to next week, none of my chitenge outfits fit me! To be fair I haven’t worn any in like 2 years, I rarely go to Zambian events. So it was a great excuse to buy two more dresses today – I had to have options 🙂

Ok shopping was a great distraction, will have to get back to the to-do list tomorrow. Still have to launch my project with MTV too. Aaaah the pressure…

I spent the weekend in the country (I call it the country because it’s in the ‘burbs) with my friend. The idea was that since I only have a couple of weeks before my driving test and a few more weeks until I leave the country, I need to get as much driving pactice in.

After spending three hours cleaning my two bedroom flat – it’s amazing how much dirt you can find when you’re really looking for it – I didn’t particularly feel like doing the 1.5 hour journey to hers. But as I’m known for my last minute cancellations (which is bad, I know), and the fact that she promised to cook me dried fish, kale with groundnuts and nshima (some of my favourite Zambian dishes), I made the effort.

Saturday night was spent eating and drinking – my glasses are broken, and without being able to see (that well) at night, I figured I wouldn’t take the risk of driving in the dark. Sunday morning began with an hour walk in the country – ok it was a large park, but when you live in London, that walk was like being in the country – my white porous trainers were not impressed. Followed by an hour driving in my new car. It was all pretty well, despite me going over the curb (twice). Thank God for 4x4s!

During the three hour break for lunch – more nshima – we watched a show on plastic surgery, which led to the, ‘would you ever do it?’ question. Having already had cosmetic dentistry and booked in for a few peels, I couldn’t even lie and say no.

Working in an industry that values appearances – though it feels the whole world is becoming like this – it’s easy to see how you could turn to a ‘quick’ fix.

The problem is that if the problem is in you, no amount of cosmetic surgery will sort it out. Having very few people realise what I did with my own cosmetic process, I realised that maybe I was the one who thought my problem was worse than it really was. And even though I still don’t think it’s perfect, I’m not tempted to go back to get it perfected.

My key issue was that I felt my appearance affected my self-esteem. Now that it’s ‘fixed’ I do feel better about myself and my confidence is even higher (who knew that was possible). Sometimes I do look in the mirror and think, ‘oh yes, a cup size bigger would be nice, or bum implants wouldn’t go amiss, and boy would i save time if I could just get some lypo.’ But, I know none of these things – bar some lypo (Tae-bo is a killer) – would make me happier, therefore they’re not necessary.

But you see some of these extreme plastic surgeries and realise that people are chasing a ‘perfection’ that really doesn’t exist, because it’s in their mind. You look at some of the before pictures and couldn’t see what they wanted to change, and now they just look like a freak show.

Self-esteem is such a powerful thing that it’s important to build it from a young age. People can achieve amazing things if they believe in themselves – help from God goes a long way too. But I’ve also seen lives damaged by low self-esteem.

I know if I believe in myself, I’ll find that inner confidence to pass my driving lessons, and these minor procedures I do, I do them for myself, to build my confidence and not to chase this pursuit of perfection. If I’m happy, regardless of what I do and how I spend my money, then that’s all that matters. But I’m all about working from the inside out – window dressing is fine, but if there’s nothing beyond the storefront, then it won’t do you much good in the long run.

I’m taking a moment out to plug a Zambian collective whose music is really coming up. I’ve know of these guys for a while now and have been impressed with their growth. I am one of those people who has an opinion on everything so was amused when the director of the video asked me my opinion of the video. He’s another one to watch.

I’m just happy that Zambian music is finally getting the recognition it deserves, but do think we still need to find our ‘own’ place on the map, so you know it’s a Zed track instantly. In the meantime, I’m happy for Zone Fam and will continue sitting on the sidelines watching them blow up.

The last 10 odd days in Kenya and Ghana have been exhausting. But good. Africa is definitely an exciting place to be right now, so I’m no really excited about the prospect of returning.

I’ve met some really great people, inspiring people. We had conversations that got me thinking, provoked debate and made me think about things from a different angle. But the conversation that really stood out for me was the one I had with this older (clearly wiser) man in Ghana.

We were talking about what women, or specifically me, want in a man and in a relationship. And he was saying, the same thing I’ve heard before, don’t have to narrow a focus on men, but then he added, you have to know what you want out of a relationship.

And it got me thinking, us women are quick to identify what we want in a man, but not so quick to define what we want in a relationship. It’s interesting because that’s something my therapist once asked me, ‘why do you want to be married?’ and I couldn’t answer it.

I think too often in everything that we do, we don’t look at the big picture and focus on what or where we want to be at the end of it all. We get too bogged down in the details instead of taking the bird’s eye view. Our thoughts can also be influenced by media and society telling us what we should want or should be doing.

I spend a lot of time over-analysing things, but I think I need to start analysing the big plan and really spending quiet time reminding myself what is important to me, re-evaluating my values and really following through on what is important to me. To start looking at the forest instead of the wood. Maybe once I do this, I’ll even have better luck in my relationships.

I have to admit, I don’t really watch animated programmes, maybe a few on adult swim, but otherwise, cartoons are for kids, right?

So the other day when my sister asked me to get her a copy of The Princess and the Frog so that she could host a screening for ‘the kids’, I thought, maybe I should watch the movie and see why she wants to show the kids. I only knew two things about the movie; 1) it’s was Disney’s first film with a black princess and 2; the controversy of the frog/prince being some ambiguous race.

With my very short attention span, I did not think I was going to be able to sit through the whole thing on Sunday afternoon. But I did. And I actually enjoyed it, didn’t even forward most of the songs.

It was great because I stupidly assumed that it would literally be a remake of the classical children’s story about kissing the frog who’s actually a prince and you become a princess. So I was surprised to see the twist to it.

However, the only thing that really made the ‘princess’ black – her skin colour and the fact that she thought kissing a frog was disgusting. I shouldn’t complain about the lack of ‘stereotypical’ black nuances that we enjoy joking about, but hate other races talking about, because the reality is all black people are different. As long as I can show my future daughter a cartoon character, a Princess, that looks like her, I should be happy.

And the message in the show is so good too – the things that matter, that makes are human is love. Or is that we need to find someone to love to be whole? Hmmm, there’s a thought.

Anyway, it struck me how as children, we get all these messages through programming that teaches us about love, humanity, respect, being ourselves etc. As we grow up those messages change to be about being all about self, money, sexual gratification and all sorts of messages that you have to wade through to find something that actually matters.

Yes it is that as adults – or even teenagers – we’re supposed to have a sense of decision making skills, we don’t need to be told, we have the ability to choose right from wrong and make the best decisions for ourselves. But I just don’t think that’s the reality. I think there are so many mixed messages that young people, who very rarely have the acumen for life-skills, just get confused. They’re childhood upbringing (for most of them) tells them one thing, and the media they now consume, tell them another. So they are no longer aligned with their soul.

You’d say that my line of work makes me partial to programme that gives positive messages, but it’s not that, it’s the choice that I made. I have two loves: making TV programming and fighting injustice. And I believe in the power of TV. The power it has to entertain, and the power it has to educate. And children’s programming does that brilliantly.

I hope as we develop our campaigns we get stronger and stronger at this. I know it’s working already, just look at Shuga. In case you missed it, here’s the piece CNN’s African Voices did on Shuga:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2010/10/25/av.shuga.kenya.mtv.bk.a.cnn

Another interesting day in the office that led to the topic of masturbation. It actually started by talking about women in their late 20s never experiencing an orgasm and how possible that was. Which led to the debate about how believable (or not, as the case might be) that some women don’t masturbate.

I personally am a big advocate for masturbation. I think that it teaches people to appreciate their bodies – you have to touch yourself, which some people find weird – and it’s also a great form of safe sex. It’s also something that you can do on your own or with a partner.

In many countries around the world it is still so taboo, but I think if we encouraged more young people to masturbate they might not feel the need to have sex, and can hold out until marriage, or whenever parents and/or society deem it to be the appropriate time or age to do so.

And if you’re sexually active it teaches you what you like and what you don’t like, and therefore have a more pleasurable sexual experience with your partner. Or at least that’s what people say, I haven’t actually figured out how this works.

But that last point actually took the conversation in the office in a different direction when someone suggested that they learnt what they liked and didn’t like from porn. Well, not literally. They used porn to educate themselves on what they should be doing sexually and then tried it on their partner, and those experiences taught them more about what turned them on and off.

Well I don’t know about that, but I guess people get ‘sex education’ from many different sources, so we need to be educating through those different sources. It’s nice to see that there are some porn films (programmes?) that use condoms, because those is another way of normalising using condoms – for the people who get their sex education from porn.

But I’d still encourage masturbation – you get comfortable with your body, it’s pretty safe (unless you’re sharing toys), and allows experimentation without actually having sex. It’s interesting that people are still uncomfortable talking about it though.

It’s been a long couple of weeks for me, both at work and in my personal life. We’re gearing up for the bi-annual (every 2 years?) International AIDS Conference in Vienna, and we have some pretty amazing stuff going on there, and trying to work across what we’re doing on the ground and online is a pretty hectic task. But I do love it, and I’m excited to see it all come together.
And seeing that I am a ‘happy-drunk’, I managed to volunteer to organise and host my sister’s friend’s Hen party. Though I did one for one of my closest friends a month or so ago, I have no idea what to do for this one. It doesn’t help that she and her friends are students, so budget-wise, that’s quite restricting – and I unfortunately can’t foot the bill! I have to sort it out pretty soon, seeing as it’s scheduled for this Friday – yikes!
On another note, I’m actually thinking about finally getting on the twitter bandwagon… still thinking about it of course. I’m half tempted, but then I think about whether I have the time to do it – I barely have time to blog these days! And then there is of course the fact that I have frequently declared that I’d never get on twitter because you’d have to be seriously narcissistic to be on it (unless you’re only following people, then you’re a potential stalker!), I do like to be a woman of my word. But then again, I am a woman, I do have the right to change my mind! Anyway, as it stands, I’m merely thinking about it. Right now I have to focus on overseeing our Vienna activities, writing my assignment (not to mention starting on my dissertation), and writing about two business plans, oh and organising the hen night! Do I really have time for Twitter?