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The Miracle of Life


Yesterday my youngest turned 6.  He is a “laat lametjie”  – came into our lives 14 years after the brother he follows.  As I have been preparing to celebrate and counting down the number of ‘sleeps’ to his birthday I was taken back 6 years ago to the time of his birth.  I realise again that though our journeys into and through life are not always easy, many miracles and blessings happen along the way – every day.

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I was an ‘older mum’ – in my mid forties, and so from the moment I knew I was pregnant, I knew that it might not be an easy journey.  And there were challenges on many levels – my age, I had pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure…), the challenge of the unexpected pregnancy, a husband in shock, a daughter in Matric, and son just starting high school, etc.  Quite early into the pregnancy I decided that I needed to do something creative to carry me through this time – to be my soft place to land.  One Tuesday night, as I drove my daughter home from choir, Balu Nivison, whom I had sent a one sentence email saying a mutual friend said we should meet, called me and invited me to join her ‘Moving Arts’ course that was beginning the next day.  I started a 12 week process of movement and reflection and art that ended in a friendship that I treasure.  At some point in the 12 weeks, I could not dance because my blood pressure was high but I continued with the art, writing, reflection and support within the group because it  gave me a deep sense of peace.  At the end of the course I knew I had the strength and peace of mind to handle anything.

A few weeks later, about 7 weeks before the baby was to be born I woke up with a strange, pain around my stomach – a ‘belt of pain’.  It was not a contraction – just a slow, steady, dull pain – more in the background than anything.  At first I thought it was just muscles stretching but it continued.  After no change in two days I decided I would go in to my Gynae just to make sure all was well.  I called Agnisia, my friend and ‘sister from another mother’ to drive me in.  After the check up he decided that I should be admitted for observation.  The ward said they would have a bed at two so she took me home to pack my suitcase and prepare myself.

I called my husband and sent out a few sms’s to let my daughter and son and a few other people know what was happening, ate lunch, and returned to the hospital.  This time Mr. B, a pensioner who drove the kids to and from school, dropped me at the reception.  I walked in and started to fill in the admission forms, feeling  so alone and wishing there was someone with me.  And as I finished, I turned around to see my friend Veronica walking towards me.  It was like seeing an Angel!  She sat with me while the nurses hooked me up to machines – foetal monitor, blood pressure machine, the funny thing they put on your finger to measure oxygen (or something) – and pricked and prodded me.  A steady comforting presence.

A little while later my Gynae, Jannerman, came in.  He checked a few things, while a nurse held my arm and pricked, and watched the blood, and pricked again…  She looked at the Dr and said, “No. ….”(I cant remember what else).  Jannerman stood at the foot of my bed and said, “Philippa, we are going to have to operate now. The baby is in distress, and your platelets are dropping.  We are just waiting for the blood from Tygerberg and then we will go on.”  I did not fully understand the seriousness of what he was saying but I knew something was wrong.  I had had an emergency cesear before and I knew they were doing this to save my life and if possible the baby.    I just said, ” I was sort of expecting this.”  He cleared his throat again and said, “And I am not going to be able to keep my promise to you.  I can’t do an epidural, we need to put you to sleep and work as fast as we can.  And I am probably not going to make a bikini line incision either but I will try to make it as neat as possible.”  At that point I decided this was not the time to ask many questions.  I had to prepare myself for the operation.  I gave him a half-smile and said, “I guess you have to do what you must.”

I was disappointed that he could not keep his promise – that he would make sure that I was awake to welcome this my very last child into the world.  I had been completely under for the delivery of my first two children – the first an emergency caesar, the second an epidural gone wrong.  I wanted to be awake to welcome this last one into the world.  Now it was not to be.  I breathed in thought, “God, if this is what you want, then let it all go well.”  What I thankfully did not realise at the time was that my pre-eclampsia had evolved into HELLP SYNDROME.  The dropping platelets meant that my red blood cells were breaking down and my blood was slowly losing its ability to clot.   There was a strong likelihood that I could bleed to death, or have stroke.   (For more info go to http://www.preeclampsia.org/health-information/hellp-syndrome)

It was around this point that my husband arrived at the hospital.  We spoke for a bit, and then left to get dressed to come into the theatre with me.  He walked me into the theatre and then said he was going to wash his hands. (What he actually did was go and sit in the waiting room which was better for the doctors doing the procedure.  They did not need the added pressure of a colleague watching them operate on his wife and child – especially under such difficult circumstances. Again I am glad that I did not know.)

I woke up hours later to see my son, daughter and husband in the room with the news that I had had a little boy and he was fine.  One of the nurses sent a message to all the people on my phone to let them know (sorry for those who did not know me that well). I was groggy with pain drugs for quite a while.

The next morning I woke up with a feeling as if I had just been through a very difficult time.  There was a different quality to the air and light. That day, or the next, I got up and went slowly to the neo-natal ICU  to see my baby – I needed to know how he was.  He was small – weighing I.7kg.  As I held him and breast-fed him the Peadiatrician came by, and as she left she told a colleague that Chris was her miracle baby.  I asked, “Why is she saying that?  There are much smaller babies in here.”  That is when nurse told me that she was in the theatre when Chris was born.  He was blue and did not move – 1/10 on the AGPAR score.  They resuscitated him, and on the second measure he was a 7/10.  (http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_center/q_a/apgar.html)  They gave him oxygen for the first 24 hours, but did not need to intubate him.  He was a miracle.

3 days after his birth I wrote this prayer and put in his cot in the ICU:

Prayer for Christopher – from Mom.

Bouy Christopher up

with Your breath

as he begins his life

Oh God.

May he dance to the

sound of Your voice

and be drawn forward

by the beauty of

Your light.

May he be cradled

in Your heart, Oh Lord

and protected by the

shield of  Your

softest Love

Amen

My prayer was answered.  Today he is a tall, strong, loving, talkative boy with a great imagination.  I am grateful to all those who supported us, all those who cared, prayed, and took care of my family.

Looking back I realise how important it is to have a great support system, and how important it is to know what you need to do to take care of yourself, and to prepare yourself for lifes challenges.  For me creativity, friendship and prayer are very important – and these things gave me the resources to support the miracle that was Chris.

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Werewere Liking – Cameroon /Ivory Coast


I am fighting for African youth. … I want the youth to be more intelligent, more sensitive, more conscious, more responsible for themselves individually. I want them to be aware that each and every one of them is capable of changing the world, changing themselves to begin with. Each time one of us improves, s/he improves the world. And only through the improvement of humanity, inside of us, can the world be improved. – Werewere Liking

Werewere Liking was born in Cameroon in 1950 and has been living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast since 1978.  She is a poet, novelist, painter, choreographer, performer, educator and social activist.  I have not met her or gone to her cultural arts centre in Abidjan, Ivory Coast – Ki-Yi Mbock Village (which means ultimate universal knowledge in Bassa, her mother tongue)  but over the past few years I have read about her, and seen a documentary about her work and I am inspired.

She is deeply committed to African tradition, to the Arts, to community, to developing the youth – and has been successful in her work, despite having left home at a very early age.  She says when she wants to do something she tries it, even if there is no funding, she tries to make it happen – and she has had amazing success (and many failures, I am sure).  She has a very clear vision and has worked hard to put it into practice.  The cultural centre is intentionally called a village because it is about community.  At her centre she works with people of all ages and they explore all the arts – writing, poetry, music, art, dance, puppetry… and the those things that support the arts – sound engineering, costume design, stagecraft…  And if any of the ‘artists’ living, learning and working there can’t read, they get literacy lessons too, in French.

I recently found an interview presented in an article published by the Barnard Centre for Research on Women. For those of you who speak French, it has video clips of the interview (with English translations in the text of the article) of her speaking about her work.  I have pulled out some quotes of her views on Pan-Africanism, the Youth and Women.  For the full article click on this link: Werewere Liking | S&F Online | Rewriting Dispersal: Africana Gender Studies.

Werewere Liking on Pan-Africanism

For me, the label “Pan-African” implies that we take into account not only Africa, but also its diasporas. Because the term, “Pan-African” itself was conceived by Africans from the diaspora. So, it means including all the worlds born out of Africa. So, we claim them, but also offer them all we have.   …. it’s a view that’s a conviction for me, that Africa is rich in its entirety as a continent only in its diversity. Africa’s primary riches are its different cultures, its peoples. … Well, because, as you can see, these very borders render spaces extremely small. They reduce Africa. They weaken it. They prevent the circulation of vital energies. Consequently, they are a handicap for the development of this continent.

I love and believe what she says – that Africa is rich because of its diversity.  It is true and yet for the last few centuries – and more importantly the last 50+ years since we started the post-colonial period we made that diversity the reason for war, coups and everything that goes with it.  We forget that a tapestry, a beautiful piece of cloth, is beautiful because of all the different threads that are woven together to make it one.

She has a passion for young people whom she takes in to live and learn at her center, and she has this to say about  her work with young people:

I am fighting for African youth. I am fighting for children’s brains to work better. When I take charge of them, I try to help them use their brain. I force them to use their left hand because we have an entire part of our brain that does not work properly because we use only one part of the body, so there is a side of the brain that is less effective. There are many exercises that I have them do. I want the youth to be more intelligent, more sensitive, more conscious, more responsible for themselves individually.

… My battle is for little things and I see myself as a little ant, you know? The tiniest of ants can lift up crumbs ten times its own weight. However, because it [the ant] is so tiny, these are still small achievements. So be it! From my position, what I try to do is to try to lift ten times my own weight. That’s it.

On feminism and being a woman:

Because feminism, as it appeared at a time (in the 60s and 70s) —but I think it must have improved since—but the way it appeared at a time, it consisted mainly of lots of demands, lots of demonstrations, and I think this is a trap. Truly, when you look at it, we don’t need to demonstrate our womanhood. It’s like music for the heart. We know that we have things to do. We must do them, attain our goals, but without losing our nature. Our nature, our charm, our beauty, our gentleness. This is a totally different thing. This is not contradictory. To be a woman means to have it all. It’s to be all. Because for me God is a woman. So, it’s to be a creator, to be the source of life and consequently to privilege life above all. (my italics)

I first heard about her in 2008 when a someone in a workshop that I was facilitating spoke to me about her.  And then I saw the documentary about her – she spoke about her life dreams, her challenges, how she built up her cultural arts centre.  Her passion, drive, creativity, vision and resilience inspire me!!  She has through following her passion with conviction made an impact, not only in Ivory Coast, but internationally.  I would love to meet her.

Here are some links about her:

The African Women’s Decade – 2010 – 2020


I did not know that the African Union had made 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s decade – but they did!  Was there any media hype about it? Did I miss it, in the noise and media overload of this century?  Or was I just too tied up in taking care of my little 6 month old, who was just coming out of his premature stage and becoming stronger?  I don’t know, and I don’t think that really matters – not really… it’s just that the concept of the  ‘African Women’s Decade’ gives me a sense of excitement and possibility, and a sense of deja-vu.  It takes me back to Nairobi in July 1985 when Kenya hosted the U.N.’s 3rd World Conference on Women to ‘review and appraise the achievement of the UN Decade for Women’ (1975 – 85).   I was 21 years old and through some luck my friend Irene was able to get us to work as volunteers at the NGO Forum – see my badge!!! 😉 (P.A. Barlow)  It felt like such a privilege.

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To be honest I do not remember much about that time – except that it was very exciting, and the Forum was based around the National Theatre.  There were so many women in Nairobi – and the men, who had been excited about the prospect of being surrounded by many women ended up frustrated because all the women were interested in was Women’s issues!!!   Another thing  I remember that a group of us, young black women went to the Hilton Hotel (unaccompanied by any man) and they did not treat us like we were hookers, AND we had quick service!!! And all the street children disappeared from the streets of Nairobi for a time.

A lot was achieved, I am sure, – and a lot of decisions and strategies developed in the UN, Development agencies, Governments etc – but I want to know what impact it had on the ordinary woman.  Conferences often frustrate me because you spend most of you time listening to people talking AT you, and the most interesting encounters, for me, are the conversations you have over tea, or lunch, or when you are looking at the displays, and accidentally bump into someone.  I wish there were more spaces for people to engage – not just to ask questions of the speakers, but to sit and really engage, dream, plan, listen to each others stories, understand the different contexts….

You see I am more interested in the impact on people, rather than policy, and so on.  Policy creates an enabling environment, but if no one acts then its just words on paper.  I fight for women, but sometimes hard-nosed feminists turn me off.  I get frustrated when they paint all men with one brush (evil, pulling women down) and I reflect and realise that my mother would not have gone to University in the 1950s if it had not been for the foresight of her father.  Or when I can identify a number of women who pulled me back, and men who encouraged me.  I get frustrated when they speak of the patriarchical society, and then go on to behave in exactly the same way that they say men do – and thus silence all the women they are claiming to empower! Women, like men, are just human beings with strengths and weaknesses.

So while the idea of a women’s decade excites me, I want to approach it differently from the way it seems to come up in the mainstream.  I would like to be more awake than I was at 21, and, in some small way make this decade count in more than just words – or policies or projects  looking for funders (all of which are absolutely important – I know that).  The question I am asking myself, and you, is ‘What are you going to do to make  this decade of the African Women more than just words on paper – or people shouting in the political arena about what is not happening?  What mark will we leave – beyond the rhetoric and the hype – even if it touches just one person?

  • How will we define (or re-define) power, and powerful women?   Will it be all about money and business, or being senior in government?  Or will we recognise all the ways in which women support the continent?
  • What, in your deepest heart of hearts, do you want to be the legacy of this decade?  How can you contribute, in a new and innovative way – beyond the tried and tested ‘recipes’ that often do not touch the ordinary woman?
  • Who are we going to celebrate?  Whose stories will we share?  Will we celebrate that woman who makes sure (on her meagre earnings) her children have a safe place to sleep, a roof over their heads, and get an education as well as that woman who goes out and fights for policies and infrastructure, or who makes an impact in the field of Education, or in the Economy?  Or we going to focus on the ‘celebrities’?
  • Will we be able to go beyond the traditions that trap women, and recognise, also the ways in which women make those traditions work for them (check out this video – http://www.ted.com/talks/kavita_ramdas_radical_women_embracing_tradition.html)

How about starting by recognising your 10 most inspiring /powerful/amazing African women?  Lets talk about them! Send me a short email, and a photo, if you have one, and I will add them all to my blog.

As a starting point (and before I put my 10 most inspiring African women down) let me share this with you :

http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2012/12/06/the-20-youngest-power-women-in-africa-2012/

Group Coaching in 2013


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Every once in a while we arrive at a place in our lives that invites us to be as bold and audacious – to take one more step towards our dreams, to let go of what is holding us back, to do what we believe is right or just to take a moment to slow down, reframe our lives – and get our bearings again.  This is not always an easy step, and it helps to have some support.

From time immemorial women have supported each other as they walked to the river, or cooked together, as they sewed or did their hair together – in community – but in modern times those kind of support systems are not so easy to come by – especially not in the cities.

This is an invitation for you to intentionally co-create a support system for yourself and a few other women – all Bodaciously, walking towards their own, specific goal, supported by an experienced coach and each other.

Starting date:  Saturday 19 January 2013

Time Investment – Morning introductory workshop on 19 January 2013 and then 2 contact hours a month for 6 months

For more information please contact Philippa:

Email:  namutebi@mweb.co.za

Mobile: 082-894-1718

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