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Sometimes we forget our blessings. It’s easy to do when we live in a world that is obsessed with consumerism and self-, and instant-gratification. Looking at our friends lives on Facebook we can get caught up with envy and focusing on what we don’t have in our lives. It’s easy. But yet we need to be reminded of our blessings.

I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Juba, South Sudan on a project I’m working on about using participatory theatre for peace-building and conflict resolution/transformation.

Before I got to South Sudan, I had people not only ask me ‘why on earth’ I was going to South Sudan, but also caution on safety as it’s a country still at war. I can’t lie, I was a little fearful. But I felt I needed something to do, and getting out of the country to go to a country I’d never been to before seemed like an opportunity not to be passed up.

My first encounter was the process of getting an entry permit. As we don’t have a South Sudan embassy in Zambia, UNICEF in South Sudan had to facilitate getting an entry permit that we needed to have before arriving in Juba. I literally got mine enroute to the airport. But at the airport they needed a print out before they could allow me on the plane. Have you seen a business centre at KK International? Thankfully my grown grandson (it’s a cultural thing) was there to help and convinced a lovely lady at the courier office to help me get a print out – thanks Sekani and Bwalya!

My journey to South Sudan took me via a night’s stay in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and arriving in Juba lunch-time of the following day. As I waited in the old terminal (Terminal 1) at Addis International Airport, I feel somewhat at ease that so many people were flying to Juba. Then I noticed that most of them had light blue passports – the UN passport. Still, it was better than being on an empty flight to the unknown.

wfp plane

I arrived at Juba International Airport about an hour and a half later. A colleague from UNICEF Zambia had already given me a heads up about the airport but no one could truly prepare me for the chaos.

The international airport was tiny. It reminded me of the Solwezi airport (and Solwezi is our economic hub too, or was, so maybe that’s not saying much!). On arrival, as I queued to get my visa (not really sure the point of the entry permit to be honest), the first thing that hit me was the overwhelming stench of urine. This was after I already almost passed out by the extraordinary heat that hit me when I stepped off the plane! South Sudan is close to the equator after all.

There didn’t seem to be order in the way things were done but I patiently went to the section that said visa on arrival. In front of me was a white woman from the UK who was kind of flirting with the security officers/immigration officers but in a condescending kind of way. It is a thing that I notice even elite black people do – treat the ‘poor, unfortunate people’ with a friendly but condescending tone (i.e. I really believe you’re an idiot but I’ll use the simplest of English for you to understand and I’ll smile at you and treat you like a happy baby with my cooing and aaahing). I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

I finally got my passport stamped and out I went to collect my bag. There was no luggage carousel so I could easily identify my bag, have security rummage through it and put a sticker on it, verifying it had been checked, and good to go.

This was my first thought of being grateful. We spend so much time in Zambia complaining about our poor infrastructure and inefficiency but it’s miles ahead of the Juba airport! I was suddenly grateful for, or at least appreciative of what Zambia has.

I walked out of the hall, and I still hadn’t seen my pick up. I remembered the Welcome and Security Pack I had been sent that clearly said, ‘don’t get a cab, go to the other UN drivers and ask them to radio a UNICEF driver for you’. Which is exactly what I did!

The driver in that UN car was extremely helpful and offered to drop me off at my hotel that was literally round the corner. As we’re driving away we see the UNICEF driver. But the UN driver won’t let me exit the car until the UNICEF car was parked directly behind us and the UNICEF driver was out of the car – the robberies are real he said.

I was slightly startled by that – was my family and friend’s fear justified if I couldn’t just get out of the car?!

view from the room

I was three days late to getting to the workshop, and as my UNICEF colleague drove me from the hotel to the workshop venue, I looked around the city.  The first thing you notice is the amount of UN cars on the road, including UN hummers!  There was some presence of the military, not heavy, but considering the city was supposed to be demilitarized, there was a clear presence of them. I saw land cruiser pick up with army in there, and what was clearly a dead body. I hoped this was just the body of their own colleague and not some poor person killed – I decided it was best not to ask questions you might not want the answer to.

It was great getting to know the workshop participants, 17 of them representing 9 of the 10 states of South Sudan. All super friendly and ready to engage and participate. They got the methodology of the two methods of participatory theatre we were testing out, and quick to see how it could be applied to their own communities and situations. Brilliant!

As I was starting to praise these activists who all stated how much they wanted peace in their country, who felt deeply hurt by the injustices and violence inflicted on their people, that affected all of them, there was also something I noticed was similar to the Zambian participants, as we’d done the same workshop a week earlier in Lusaka; their addiction to their cellphones.

It was constant! Some at least had the decency to answer the phone out of the room, while others had no qualm answering it in the workshop room during the exercises or the facilitator explaining something. It wasn’t a big room, so all sound carried!

At first I thought, ‘how rude!’. I personally get offended when people take a phone call in the middle of a dinner or learning opportunity, just think it’s rude. I don’t know why people are obsessed with their phones. I’m not chained to my phone, I don’t stress about missed calls, people can text me, call me back or I can call them back! It’s not that serious. Hence the reason it’s called a ‘Cell-phone’ you get imprisoned by it! (I saw that on Facebook!)

Zambia was a similar thing; mainly their cellphones, but generally an inability to focus. And it led me to an overall problem we have: Indiscipline

Discipline gets a bad rap at times, probably because somehow our mind goes to the military when we think of discipline. But really discipline is about focus and self-control.

These are key areas we need to grow and develop generally. How are we going to develop or succeed if we’re indisciplined?

view from the lobby

To lose sight of your goal, or what you’re trying to achieve because you’re easily distracted is a bad thing, a sign of weakness. It takes strong will, determination, and lazer focus to stay on your course. You see examples of it all the time, the people who succeed have like a singular focus and drive; determination and discipline.

But generally, I see most people don’t have the focus or discipline to achieve the success we’re destined for. In fact, I think we’re getting distracted by tools and systems to stop us from achieving success – because of the power you hold when you have reached your full potential. So many people and organisations try to stop us from achieving this potential and we fall for it by not being disciplined.

Even in my own life, I realized that I wasn’t living up to my own potential because I was getting distracted by little things (and some pretty addictive TV). So when I saw the behavior of the people in both Zambia and South Sudan and thought, how can we achieve economic freedom or peace in our country if we can’t be disciplined? If we can’t focus on what we want, how on earth will we ever get it?

I believe in doing a lot of self-reflection, you can only control yourself and your actions, and becoming the best version of yourself requires constant reflection, away from external perceptions and distractions. So as I was getting disheartened by these displays of indiscipline and lack of focus, every time I went back to my hotel room, I would reflect on the day – the words I heard people say, and then think to my own life. What blessings has my lack of focus or discipline stopped? How many times do I say I want something and then struggle to pursue it, or stop midway through to pick up something that doesn’t take me further on my path to achieving what I desire?   Too many times to answer.

I’m back in Zambia now, grateful for my blessings, for my family and friends and their prayers. I’m also more focused on making 2016 the year of my making by leaving distractions and indiscipline in 2015!

Hope you’ll join me for the ride

(PS taking photos in Juba is illegal, but I took these photos before I knew that – for real!)

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Since I got back to Lusaka I’ve been loving my free, single and ready to mingle life. When I was in London I was so sure I wanted to settle down and focus on maybe doing the whole wifey thing. As touched down on African soil that all changed!

Wedding bands

There are a lot less people in Lusaka than I knew growing up, most of them having moved out of the country, gotten married (therefore are never seen) or died I guess. It is definitely harder to find someone in the age range I usually go for (older than me these days) who are single and have no drama or baggage. I know a few of my friends who also relocated back to Zambia, opting for dating younger men.

I actually have been lucky to have been asked out by a couple of eligible bachelors. Once I got back on the dating scene I loved it, it had been awhile in the UK. But once I started dating, I started questioning if I really did want to settle down in a committed relationship.

Dating in Lusaka is definitely fun – guys don’t go dutch (well rarely), nor have I picked up the full bill – a welcome change from my dating days in London. Money aside, it’s also a nicer environment to get glammed up in – I never have to worry about wearing my heels because I don’t have to walk anywhere – well maybe from the car to the door of the restaurant. And Lusaka is so small, you’re bound to have similar stories or mutual friends to talk about when you run out of chit chat – so might help keep the date interesting a few minutes longer!

But it’s not only that. After some reflection on why I’d pretty much done a 180, I started to realise that it was my emotional unhappiness that made me want to settle down, thinking that I would be more satisfied in life if I had someone to share it with. Now that I’m back in Zambia, my family around me and leading an exciting career path, I don’t feel unfulfilled. I’m happy with my life.

However, the other day I did meet someone, he’s older, sorry more mature, than myself or indeed anyone I’ve ever dated before and it’s caught me slightly off balance. Unfortunately I don’t think we’re on the same page so doubt it will go anywhere but it’s had me questioning what I want in life and what I’m willing to live without. And though I’m sure that I want more, I also can’t help but be drawn to him. It’s not the older, wiser thing that does it – he looks no where near his age, and can be quite ‘young’ acting (not to be confused with childish), so I’m not even sure what it is…

At the same time, I haven’t officially stopped seeing the Adonis, but since he doesn’t call or text me as much, I’m safe to assume that he’s moved on to a new catch.

My real problem is that I’m also attracted to men who fancy me. I rarely fancy someone first and maybe that’s what is the problem with my ‘relationships’. I’m too busy basking in their attention, and then I feed off it and feel like I’m really into them, when I never really got to know them (or them me) to decide whether I really liked them or not. Could be a reason I can move on to someone else so quickly after a break up? Maybe…

I had lunch with an ex – who I didn’t speak to for close to a year because he’d been a dick – and he said that I needed to be honest with myself about what I wanted because he felt that one moment I was so confident and sure and the next… not so much. I guess he could see that in our relationship alone – I didn’t speak to him for ages, then called him inviting him out for drinks like nothing had happened. Though that’s me simplifying it, but the point is, when it comes to men, I can be wish-washy. Now that I’ve met Mr Mature, it has me questioning what I want all over again. I really wish I could be the kind of woman, who when it comes to men, she knows exactly what she wants… Though I guess knowing what you don’t want is half the battle. We’ll see how this goes but might be time for me to start doing things differently.

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.

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