Gwyneth Speaks of Vaginas

Does Gwyneth Paltrow really believe that women should steam clean their vaginas or it’s a ploy for publicity?

Do we women still know so little about our bodies that we’ll follow such advice?

I ask, but perhaps I don't really want an answer.

For many of the world’s women accurate, unbiased and accessible information about the female body – especially the reproductive system – is hard to come by. It does not help when someone like Paltrow uses her celebrity status to send more distorted messages to the world.

At a time when we’re battling to end the myth of the female reproductive system as dirty or cursed, Ms Paltrow should ask what message she’d like to share - that the vagina accumulates such filth that it must be cleaned (and someone paid to do it) or that she, an educated, wealthy and famous woman, knows nothing about her own body?


#Jesuis silence

In the wake of the Paris attacks and the public and international displays of solidarity that followed, an extremely annoying trend began to dominate the web.

Yes, we are aware of the situation in Nigeria, we replied to the first accusations of ignorance - as far as we can be considering the dearth of information.

But that wasn’t enough, then came the accusations of callousness, of not caring. Why was this? Because we’re not on the street with the world leaders that were not marching, our every twitter post is not tagged to #jesuisnigeria and we were not vociferously joining particular we-like-to-think-we-are-well-informed celebrities in their condemnation of Boko Haram.

Déjà vu – Ebola.

It seems what is required of us is not that we care, but that we must make a public display that we care. It is not enough that we care, but everyone must know it.

Many people across the world are deeply aggrieved by what is going on in Nigeria. Though the internet mind-police draw and share cartoons of apathetic viewers watching the news and ignoring it, placing the blame on racism and the prominence of certain countries over others – of course those are factors – the reasons for our behaviour are assumed and inferred and we’re beaten about the head with these assumptions.

Since the Paris events, we’ve had a relentless onslaught of opinions, discussions and declarations of being #jesuis or not, pro or against satire, blasphemy and so on. Though these are important it seems those who stay silent are thought of as being uninformed or uninterested.

In some cultures, public displays are an essential part of mourning and anyone who doesn’t attend a funeral is accused of witchcraft or indifference – it seems something similar is happening here.

Photograph: Michael Fleshman


All hail the great leader!

While Facebook has many detractors, I, unlike several Facebook friends, have never felt the need to unsubscribe from it and leap into a virtual wilderness.

Facebook, while acknowledging that it has many flaws, allows me to stay anchored in Zambia – to remain in touch with friends, acquaintances and to follow its events and also its politics.

And the gloves are off and groins thoroughly pummelled.

After the death of a president, we are now in the midst of campaigning for presidential by-elections. My Facebook contacts give me a constant narrative of the events surrounding the elections. Facebook is far more detailed than the traditional Zambian media - the candidates and their attributes have been described and debated, from the clothes they wear to their ex-wives and wayward children.

When looking at the list of aspirants, it’s repeatedly asked, why are there so few women willing to stand, why are so few young people participating and why such apathy towards politics?

Even before the election dates were confirmed the shenanigans began. In the process of trying to woo voters in an election no one foresaw (seemingly) there are no depths that haven’t been sunk to, no ploys that have not been played or bottoms that have not been scraped in the pursuit of power.

A Zambian politician must have an unshakable desire to be in office if he is to get through the process of trading insults, concocting stories and making promises that he has not the slightest intention of fulfilling, in order to get into power.

Here lies the problem. An issue that when one reads Facebook or other social or formal media you find repeated over and over “in power” or “ascend into power.”

In Zambian politics the prize is too great. We elect candidates into power – we actually leave our homes one morning to stand in a queue to cast a vote in order to give someone power. Our use of the word is not a exaggeration.

Power – not office, or responsibility. In Zambia a president becomes almost omnipotent - giving orders, disregarding laws and constitutions, ignoring not only election promises but also the electorate themselves. Our presidents still rule by decree, harking back to the days of Kaunda’s banning mini-skirts, once spoken his words may as well be law. Our presidents are protected by impunity; the concepts of accountability and responsibility have yet to be demanded by the people.

As for the financial benefits, they are unlimited it seems (taking three generations of a family on holiday at the taxpayers expense) but those pale in comparison to having an entire airport on hold each time you wish to fly on holiday. You experience the motorcades, the dancing women and the constant bowing and scraping of those wanting to be in your favour.

This is what causes the unfettered battle to become president. Unfortunately the Zambian electorate have yet to understand the true concept of democracy – simply voting is not enough to call a system a democracy, just like not having been at war doesn’t mean we are a peaceful nation.


The reality of it is

Reality TV - I watch less than my fair share. Some of it is fairly entertaining, some of it is good, but some is, quite frankly, built on premises so ridiculous that I find myself staring at the television, jaw slack and eyes watering.

“Two years is nothing! You’ll find someone!” I’ve just been shouting at the television (yes, television does make you shout at it). Sinkkulaiva (Love Boat) has just ended and we have continued to Ensitreffit Alttarilla (First date at the altar), both of which are about desperate singles looking for love. Ensitreffit involves strangers being paired up on five-week trials to see if they are suited, there’s even a priest involved and a very serious host.

Among many questions I have is, how certain do you have to be that you’re not going to find love in order to join such a show? (Another is does this trial period involve sex?)

Are we to understand that these, mostly, young people are so sure that they cannot find partners through conventional means that they’ll resort to a very public process complete with the potential for humiliation?

Once the show is aired and watched and the contracts signed to permit your face to be repeatedly shown, day after day, year after year, will it still seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity to find a partner or will it become something you’re constantly hoping that your new workmates or girlfriend don’t find out about?

Our individual histories now form a distinct retrievable part of our collective memory. For example, six or seven years ago, I posted some fairly embarrassing pictures of myself on Facebook – nothing extremely so – and forgot about them. Last year Facebook thoughtfully dredged them up for me. Likewise, only this afternoon I noticed Star Trek Generations had been dug up for another seemingly endless rerun on primetime television. Moreover, we have Matlock and McGyver as constant daily companions.

While having had a bit part on MacGyver as mullet guy #2 may seem a little awkward twenty years later, it was a role probably undertaken in the best of faith – that it might lead to a legitimate career in acting – will the motives for being on such reality shows stand up as one gets older and wiser?


New year - same everything

New year, new opportunities etc.

Not to be a killjoy, but is there really any difference between yesterday and today?

If I was a pessimist yesterday, what would have changed between then and now that I would suddenly see the world afresh and my future anew?

This morning I caught a segment on the Today show on BBC4 – some people heard they’d lost their jobs on Christmas Day. They’ve spent the holiday season looking for jobs, worrying about their futures, unless they’ve had good news since – they probably feel the same as yesterday.

This is 2015. It, like 1999, has had a certain lore built up around it. It is promised to be special. Perhaps this is due to the Millennium Development Goals – fifteen years of talking about, working towards, analysing and debating this arbitrarily chosen year. Fifteen years of being reminded that if we work hard enough we’d have achieved goals never before tackled on a global scale have probably been imprinted on us making this year unlike any other.

Perhaps it’s the distance from the year 2000? Is 15 years enough to have made something of yourself? Can you recognise the person you were when the Y2K fuss reigned? What has changed since 2010, five years ago? What will change before 2020?

Nevertheless, best wishes for the New Year!