Cultural Influences

When I lived in Zimbabwe from 2006-2008, I tried to learn as much about the Shona culture and language as possible. I was fortunate enough to live and work in an environment that provided little interaction with other westerners, so I quickly picked up enough of the language to carry out basic conversations. What I found fascinating was the existence of Shonglish (a mixture of English and Shona words) and the ways in which it was used.

The influence of Western culture (whether from the U.S., U.K. or even South Africa) on Zimbabweans was obvious, particularly among youth and people living in the larger urban centres. In many ways, it’s as though a new culture was being created with a new set of social and cultural values. While the Zimbabwean government controlled most forms of mass media in the country, and used these channels to communicate their anti-Western rhetoric, the people’s use of Shonglish and their eager engagement with Western media highlighted both interest and adoption of Western influences.

It was also interesting to observe how some aspects of Western culture created tension. While most of my movies and TV shows were eagerly borrowed by neighbours and colleagues, some were returned secretly and never discussed, such as The Last King of Scotland and The Interpreter, with the latter movie actually banned in the country.

On a more humorous note, I also remember being in a small, rowdy cinema that was showing a movie (can’t remember which one) that involved a kidnapping with a ransom of $3 million dollars. While the scene was meant to be dramatic (and would have been in North America), we were experiencing hyperinflation at the time and the government kept printing new denominations of currency, so each person in the cinema had paid nearly $200 million dollars in local currency just to watch the movie. Instead of being shocked, the audience just erupted in laughter.

 

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Pros and Cons

Tonight I took off my arm sling and went outside for a run. I felt so free without the heavy weight on my arm and it was nice not to get hot and sweaty under all the metal and padding. I’m not supposed to take it off yet as my broken wrist is still healing, but I’m tired of wearing the sling all the time. I definitely still need it for everyday activities, as it’s painful when I pick up things or bend my wrist.

As I ran, I thought about how the sling is a hindrance to running, but an essential tool for using my right hand to carry, grab or push things. It’s interesting how something can benefit in one area but detract in another. It’s like my phone, which helps me professionally to access my email, schedule and resources while I’m out of the office or in meetings, but is a significant hindrance to family life when used in the evenings and weekends.

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Two Things and One to Come

With R away in Uganda, I’m doing my best to keep the household from falling apart. I’ve managed to keep the boys clean and well fed and they haven’t been late for school or missed any of their soccer, swimming or martial arts lessons. I’m remaining diligent with all the daily tasks at home, even with my broken wrist, and so far I’m not feeling overwhelmed by the extra work. I’m happy that R is able to have this experience in Uganda, so it’s all worth it.

On Day 5 of 15, however, I’ve noticed two challenges. First, it’s quite difficult to run outside unless I do this before picking up the kids from school. Second, I get lonely when I’m not able to talk with R. The first challenge isn’t a huge deal, especially for a two-week period. I don’t feel safe running on our treadmill with my broken wrist (I often have to grab onto the rails when I need to adjust the speed or stop), so I’ve just accepted that I will be running much less than usual during this time (even taking days off completely). The latter challenge is becoming more significant as the days go on. I was surprised by the number of times I automatically tried to phone R today. She’s the first person I reach out to when I have news to share and need to either vent or cheer about something happening in my life. I also miss her physical presence around the house, particularly in the evenings, which is when we usually take a break from the busyness of our day to sit and chat and spend time together.

Within the next few days, a third challenge will emerge that will trump the other two. This will come when the boys get tired of counting down the nights that remain until their mother returns and decide that she needs to be home now. I got a glimpse of that this evening, so I know it’s coming soon. Thankfully she left us some video messages on my phone, so I can use those to allay their sadness.

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Protectiveness

Shadow, our little Bichon Frise, has taken to sitting on the top of our couch in the living room so that he can look out the front window and bark ferociously at anyone who passes by our house. This is a recent (and not at all desired) development, so he must have gained some sense of ownership and protectiveness over the area of our property. We live in a semi-detached home, and he also lets our neighbours know when they’re encroaching physically or audibly on our space. His concern with external noise is the most ridiculous, as he’s the loudest creature in the two households. I’m surprised they still speak to us.

What I find most interesting is how Shadow can always tell if it’s someone from our family walking up the sidewalk to our house, as he doesn’t bark at us but just starts wagging his tail and running excitedly to the door to greet us. Thankfully he’s not protective of us when meeting people or other dogs outside. He only seems to bark at passersby while sitting at the window.

When we had our first child, I turned instantly into an overly protective parent. I’m not sure if this was a built-in instinct or I just went a bit wacky, but I definitely had to work at allowing myself to feel comfortable with some aspects of danger and risk. We lived in an apartment in those days, and one set of neighbours constantly smoked marijuana on their balcony and the smoke would often waft into our home. I went weeks without sleeping properly because I was constantly worried about whether the smoke would impact K’s health. I must have Googled a thousand articles about the topic and even called nurses and medical hotlines to ask for advice. I can’t remember whether R gave me beef liver treats to teach me to ignore my protective nature, but I do know that these treats work extremely well with Shadow. Sometimes people and dogs just need a tasty incentive to help us ignore our basic instincts. I think chocolate works better with humans though.

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Wondrous Wonder

Tonight as I was tucking B into bed, he asked whether I knew anything about superheroes. “What do you want to know?” I replied. He obviously wanted to know a lot, as he started throwing out questions faster than I could answer, such as:

  • Can Spider-Man shoot webs from his head or just his hands?
  • How does Thor fly up in the sky?
  • What’s so special about Black Widow? Can she walk on the ceiling?
  • Will you buy me rockets so I can fly like Iron Man?

And then he said, “But my wondrous wonder is if Hulk can jump from one forest to another. Do you think he could even jump across the world?”

He looked so intently at me that it was abundantly clear how serious he was about his questions. I remember when I shared his wondrous wonder about so many things. What leads us to lose our passion for learning and discovery? At what point does the pursuit of knowledge become tedious and/or designated as a work- or school-related activity? What can we do to continually foster a playful and adventurous spirit as we develop greater wisdom and expand our understanding of the world around us?

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The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Trust, kindness, friendship, shared values and mutual attraction are all important components to a successful marriage, but this is the secret to a truly happy one: Hire a housekeeper. Although the cost may require you to work an extra year or two before retirement, you’ll likely never have to experience your spouse throwing a toilet brush at your head when they’ve just finished a few hours of housecleaning on a Saturday morning and you’ve just come home from a long run and tossed your sweaty clothes on the bathroom floor.

Of course, another solution is to not marry a slob, but frankly, that will do nothing to support job creation in the service industry, so I would strongly encourage couples who care about the economy and their marriage to follow the secret advice noted above.

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

In my role as the communications director for a large nonprofit organization, one of my many responsibilities involves serving as a national spokesperson. This often requires me to do media interviews for TV, radio and print news. 

There is nothing I dislike more than public speaking, so whenever possible I try to respond to media requests by email or phone. This only works some of the time, so I do occasionally need to be on TV or radio for an interview. When this happens, I do my best to slow down and not say “like” every five seconds. I usually get through theses experiences with my fragile ego intact, but I still remember one interview in which I awkwardly stood sideways to the camera in an effort to hide the black eye that my three-year-old had given me with his elbow the night before. 

The worst interviews for me happen in a “green room.” This is usually a small circular booth where I need to sit on a stool and listen to an interviewer through an earpiece. A fake background (ie Toronto skyline) is added digitally by the technicians. During the interview I can’t see anyone or even locate a camera in the booth to focus on, so the process feels very unnatural to me. I often have a panic attack right after the interview wondering if I remembered to keep my eyes open while I was concentrating on hearing the interviewer through my earpiece.

So, it’s totally logical that I will spend tomorrow morning leading a training session on how to speak with the media. The truth is that I’m better at teaching people how to be effective spokespersons than I am at doing it myself. Rather than feeling like a fraud, I’m trying to own up to who I am and accept myself for my strengths and weaknesses.

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