#nomakeupselfie: not doing it

Speaking against the ‘no make-up selfie’ campaign is a little difficult as it tends to be followed by a barrage of “how can you not support something which raises money for cancer!” which is a fair argument. The campaign which has ambiguously spawned from obscurity has created a trend of women ‘bravely’ posting selfies on Facebook to raise Cancer awareness and I cannot deny that the 2 million or so that has been raised since the campaigns inception is a spectacular thing.

I have been nominated to ‘bare all’ and I won’t be doing it and here is why.

First and foremost I don’t understand the correlation between my bare mug on Facebook and raising awareness to cancer. Awareness is akin to education and the #nomakeupselfie is doing nothing to educate women about the signs and symptoms of cancer, how they are at risk and what they should be doing to protect themselves. When you posted your selfie, did you stop and check your breasts? Did you book in your annual smear? Did you even think about it? The dichotomy between the two is stark. A campaign targeting these simple tasks, which are so often over looked by women, would have been far more beneficial.

The origins of the trend are somewhat vague but I can’t help feel some have missed the point. Some (not all) have proffered a notion that it’s ‘brave to bare all’ in some way equating the #nomakeupselfie with the bravery of battling cancer which is baffling, misguided and offensive to those actually struggling with the disease. Other’s have posted the selfie but not donated which seems to be a completely fruitless task only achieving a platform for personal vanity.  I can’t help but find an element of narcissism in the whole thing.

Despite being divorced from the subject of cancer, I do that a campaign that promotes natural pictures of women and normalizes unairbrushed, un-made up female faces as a good thing. Lord knows we need more of that; but I’m not sure that this campaign is really stopping the relentless scrutiny of women’s faces. Instead it has transferred the scrutiny onto female bare faces, thus changing the image but not the outcome. It is still articulates a very stereotypical view of female beauty and focusing solely on an ability to be beautiful with or without make up. I would like to see more of what women are really doing, what they are achieving, how they are smashing the barriers created around our own narrow perception of what it is to be beautiful.

Maybe I’m just a cynic but I am not doing a #nomakeupselfie; that is my prerogative. I will, however, encourage you to donate to charity if you can or better still donate your time and really see where your efforts go, it’s good for the soul.  But in the name of raising cancer awareness I will instead of a selfie say this:

I implore you, women of the world, to check your breasts: often and thoroughly. Use it as an excuse of self exploration and enjoy a good grope. IT’S IMPORTANT.

http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1740.aspx?categoryid=60&subcategoryid=182

BOOK YOUR SMEAR TEST IMMEDIATELY! I know it’s inconvenient, I know it’s unpleasant and I know it’s awkward to make small talk about your summer holiday in Greece while someone is foraging in your nether regions but IT IS IMPORTANT. Stop putting it off and go.

Cancer will affect most of us one way or another in our lives. Learn the signs and symptoms and make sure others do the same. These things can help to catch cancer early and save lives.

Many crows does not a Murder make.

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My own knack for getting into hilarious situations provides me with enough fodder for any evening round a table but there’s a yarn I encountered this week which was made for sharing.

Let’s just start with the facts. I know a very special person in Zanzibar; I know a crow murderer (insert crack of lightening).

Yes, my dear friend who harps from Alaska occupies her days remedying the crow problem with poison. Fear not reader she’s not in it for kicks. The Indian house crows are delightful imports which are now decimating many indigenous species of bird and plant and generally upsetting the balance. The project she works for has been in operation for two years and the success of her work is hugely important and her reputation hangs on the effectiveness of her head count.

The crow murderer (as she’ll from here on out be known) recently collided with another friend who truly believes that all the crows in Zanzibar have a personal vendetta towards him (we’ll call him the crow Botherer). He has been known to declare unashamedly that the crows talk to each other as he drives home from work to warn others of his coming. He’s a man obsessed so naturally what followed was an exchange of poison between two friends.

I was kicking back with a glass of vino and friends last week, generally letting air pass between my ears when the Botherer comes bounding into the bar furious because despite lobbing large amounts of poison at his arch nemesis’s  he had yet to see a dead crow. Gripped with fear that the crows now knew he had tried to kill them a scene from ‘the Birds’ was surely due to follow.

Logically, upon receiving the news, the Crow Murderer was greatly concerned, her sole intention was to be the grim reaper of crows and it wasn’t going to plan. Subsequently she called a meeting with the heads of her ‘death squad’ to discuss the effectiveness of the poison and its longevity (it had been rattling around in her freezer for a few months. I’m assuming conversations such as ‘where are the peas?’ ‘behind the poison’ occurred). A rather large investigation ensued, jeopardising the reputation of the entire project, but to no avail. The mystery of the immortal crows remained unsolved.

Oh poor naïve Americans. They’d forgotten a major element in the mystery.

The Crow Murderer lives with a Brit and what are Brits naturally talented at? Doing something daft while mildly intoxicated. The collection of the poison had been left in the hands of said inebriated Brit who, upon command, rummaged in the freezer for anything that resembled poison whilst the Botherer remained in waiting on the street below their balcony; like Romeo awaiting his deadly Juliet. On coming across a lone white pot she knew she’d hit jackpot and tossed it casually into the street. Poison was exchanged and the failed hit followed.

It wasn’t until we found ourselves back in a bar, somewhat lubricated, that some light was shed on the whole debacle. When The Crow Murderer was describing the large bags of poison soaked meat to a passer-by, the Brit pointed out the obvious flaw in the descriptions. The meat didn’t rattle like smarties. After exchanging several ‘perplexed looks’ light finally dawned, the sun broke over the horizon and all was seen in its ludicrous actuality.

‘I wondered where all my pot of baking powder had gone…’

Yes, while the reputation of an entire project hung in the balance, the crows of Zanzibar had been enjoying a hefty dose of scattered baking soda. They’ve risen beautifully and probably taste quite good with jam but unfortunately have lived to see another day. So the mystery of the invincible crows was solved as we all dissolved into hysterics at the idea of the Botherer swirling in a maniacal haze of white, seeking his ultimate yet fruitless revenge. We’ve all learnt a few things, mainly don’t leave a Brit in charge of important missions after 6pm and it’s really made me think about the sort of people I spend my days with. But one question remains, one unsolved mystery that keeps me up late at night pacing the floorboards, questioning.

‘Who keeps baking powder in the freezer?’

Sometimes I think we’ll never know.

Beach-ercise

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At some point in our lives most of us have done that awfully abhorrent action of joining a gym. You know the gym? The place where you’re instantly judged on your attire, ability to pound a treadmill for twenty minutes without breaking a sweat and oh honey, you have cellulite, don’t even think of wearing anything shorter than full length trousers. 

Well I have discovered the beauty of the alternative. I fluctuate from being a Ben & Jerry’s consuming couch potato until I am overcome with guilt and smoker’s cough when I become a gym obsessive determined I’ll never again eat take-away for two weeks straight whilst watching re-runs of ‘Take Me Out’. So after months of consuming nothing but rice I decided to de-wedge myself from the sofa and follow my friend Tif to the beach for his daily workout.

What followed was two days of crying, moaning and demanding that fifty yards was just not a natural distance for a human to run. But I eventually got into the swing of things and found I wasn’t in a windowless box but somewhere very different indeed.

Instead of a dungeon, which makes all time stand still, I could enjoy white sands and a view of the crystal waters of the Indian Ocean, whilst my body crippled after sit up number four.

I slapped on some men’s joggers and an oversized t-shirt I’d robbed from a friend and still looked scantily clad. You can leave your super sexy workout attire at the door girlfriend (a requirement of the inner city gym). Other women are doing cardio in buibui’s, hijabs and flip-flops. I salute these women.

I’m a person who actually likes to work out at the gym, so obviously I have the awkward conundrum of sweating on machines: It happens. Luckily a) no torture machines to rip your muscles into unnatural contortions and b) It’s 1,000 degrees even at 6am. When people are turning into raisins before your eyes they don’t really care if you’re rocking the butt crack V; or in my case the entire body soak.

So here’s the logistics. There’s one man who instructs half an hour of cardio and another who gives you half an hour of ‘body work’ (torture) with an audience of one hundred or so participants of all shapes and sizes. If you’re feeling frisky you can run up a hill but I’m not that mental.    

The beauty of it is the wonderful sense of community. Man, woman, old, young, fat, thin, footballer or couch potato; everyone is welcome and everyone’s there to lend a hand when one push up seems like a personal Everest. People are here to be healthy, not to burn off that one Jacob’s cracker they ate two days ago. Alright, I get some ‘lazy white girl’ jokes but that’s largely down to the fact that the 65 year old woman next to me is pounding the sand whilst I writhe on the floor looking like I’ve just been punched in the gut. I mean fair’s fair.

There’s no swimming pool for a post workout dip but when I’m done I can just hurl myself, fully clothed, into turquoise waters and squelch my way home; cool, sandy and satisfied.

And the best part of it. It’s free. That’s right, no one’s here for profit they’re just here to enjoy themselves. Makes you sick thinking about that small fortune you just forked so you can be judged at unnatural temperatures for a week before you inevitably give up and lie at home consumed with guilt about all the money you’ve wasted, doesn’t it?   

 

British Problems

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‘I’m a Brit staying with a family in New Zealand. My host said to help myself to food or drink whenever I want or I won’t get fed. This goes against everything I know.’

I recently saw this on a buzzfeed called ’21 British People Problems’ and it hits painfully close to home.

I have been living with a host family for eight months. We know each other, we’re comfortable with each other, heck they’re my family here and despite this it took me six months to be able to use the kettle without enormous mounds of festering British guilt and I only achieved the kettle out of shear addiction desperation. But beyond the kettle is a minefield of social discomfort that has rendered me like a wilting daffodil of embarrassment.  

They cook food every day. I know I’m allowed to eat said food (that’s why it’s there) and they know I know. But alas as an Englishwoman until somebody actually offers me the food verbally the food may as well be inside a cage, guarded by giant demonic spiders.

If I arrive home from school to an empty house, I fist pump the air all the way to the kitchen because the food is there, I’m there and nobody has to get all socially awkward about the situation.

But when people are there what ensues is some kind of ridiculous Charleston around the house as I try every feasible attempt to draw attention to myself in the hope someone will finally ask ‘have you eaten? There’s food in the kitchen’.

Oh thank Christ I thought I would starve.

It has been known to take up to forty five minutes to get results and once I even left because it was just less awkward. It is a burden to bear so here are some of my tried and tested methods for any socially retarded Brits abroad and in a jam (or more precisely Brits who are jam adjacent but can’t access jam due to social etiquette).

1) Walk through the house as animatedly as you can. If you can get in a few twirls and pirouettes you may even ruffle a curtain enough to turn a head. If you know the entire routine to ‘Single Ladies’ there is no time like the present.

2) Make a coffee (if you’ve progressed to kettle access that is) and then stand in front of people with said caffeinated drink so they’re aware you’ve been to the kitchen but returned without food. Maybe they’ll think you didn’t notice the enormous, steaming casserole pot on the stove and kindly draw your attention to it. Or they’ll think you saw it, didn’t want it and now you’ll starve.

3) Sigh…a lot. The kind of sigh women in Disney movies do whilst awaiting their Prince Charming; their Prince Charming called stew.

4) Tell everyone you’re going to the shop and do they want anything. Then mutter under your breath as if you’re deciding what to buy…’do I get crisps or fruit, crisps or fruit, crisps or fruit…oh c’mon!’

*Refrain from saying ‘daddy or chips’…people abroad do not get that reference.

5) Wait until other people go to the toilet/ shop/ to nap, nab food and retreat to bedroom. Deny later.

6) Hover with intent.

7) Sit outside kitchen and stare forlornly at food through the door. But if anyone asks that was so not what you were doing. You’re an intelligent human being deep in thought.

*Try not to get too socially awkward in your denial and blurt out ‘no thanks, I’m not even hungry’ and spend the afternoon with your ear pressed to the bedroom door attempting to achieve number five.   

8) Try growing a bigger pair than me and just take your god dam food you repressed, twirling, blighty freak.

 

I’m pretty sure everyone here thinks I’m cray cray. I don’t blame them.  

Corporal Punishment in schools: finding a line.


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Last week I discovered one of my colleagues with her foot rammed into the stomach of a nine year old girl, pinning her to the floor as she used a rubber rod to flay her from face to foot. The act was vicious, sustained and child abuse. The aftereffect of the incident on the child was horrific. She had injuries to her entire body and four hours later was still hysterical.

The Tanzanian education policy sanctions corporal punishment as a last resort by a head teacher. Such punishment should be no more than six lashes and such punishments must be recorded. At the beginning of the year we were all informed by management, that striking children was now against school policy and would not be tolerated. Since that day I have not seen one scrap of evidence that they have worked to stop it, monitor it and certainly there is no one is recording it. The adults who manage and oversee schools control the school environment, which is there to support the child’s development, education and well being. They have a duty to educate children to grow up as tolerant and non-violent adults.

The incident I witnessed was an extreme case carried out by an individual who takes pleasure in repeatedly and violently beating children. Afterwards there was, what can only be described as an ‘altercation’ between myself and said colleague. She is not representative of the masses by any means. I have since discovered that this is not an isolated incident on her record but still little has been done to reprimand her. 

 Management’s theory is that most incidents are very minor and no more than a clip round the ear. Well that’s true. But the problem they face is by leaving corporal punishment unregulated they now have trouble finding the line where it turns from ‘acceptable’ (not my view) to unacceptable. Is it only unacceptable if the child is left with physical marks? What about psychological damage? Without an all-out enforced ban it is impossible to make a distinction.

 There is a distinct lack of teachers in Zanzibar and management insist on remaining passive as they’re too terrified to lose anybody who can actually do the job. In reference to the colleague in question I was told ‘but she works hard, we can’t afford to lose her’. So these teachers stay, even if they are violent lunatics.

When I opened up a discussion about beating children in schools, many colleagues were keen to find alternative methods to beating and those who weren’t believed that alternative methods were not effective and time consuming. To become a teacher in Zanzibar you do not need to have any formal teacher training and therefore many are inexperienced in classroom management and alternative disciplinary methods. Most Zanzibari’s grew up being beaten in school and what the government and school management have suggested is to remove the only disciplinary method they know without providing an alternative.  

I have been requested to beat children as the view is held by some that they listen and learn better. But a Tanzanian survey done in 2007 stated that in 9 out of 10 schools child feared beating. In three out of ten schools children expressed that they could not learn from or understand a teacher in the context of fear. Fear may make the children behave better but it does not increase their ability to learn.

As the rules become tighter and tighter in England, we all joke that it is to the point of extreme. For example, my mother has been in the situation where she cannot dry and change a sopping wet six year old who was allowed to walk to school in the rain. But the rules are there to stop certain sick individuals, like the one involved at my school, who without clear boundaries or fear of losing their job, take it upon themselves to exercise extreme authority whenever they please. Despite tough laws in England there are never ending stories of young children who slipped through the net of social services.

I will be taking it further with the colleague in question but unfortunately I already know the depressing outcome. She will receive a stern word (but no flogging mind, she’s an adult) and be sent back to her classroom to repeat the whole disgusting saga again.   

The definition of stress.

Being handed a bucket of live crabs on a crowded bus, sans lid and being firmly told ‘don’t let any escape or your paying for them’.

The Curse of the Bar-hopping Backpacker

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This week backpackers have pissed me off.

For the last seven months I have largely been living in my own little Islamic, teacher, murder-ville world and for the most part I’ve been very content. Most nights you can find me hunkered down before last prayers ready for the 5am start. I’ve also given up on showers, alcohol and cutlery. I don’t even remember what a fork looks like. I’ve become pretty good at Swahili, been to more weddings than you can shake a stick at, celebrated Eid with my Zanzibari family and hiked the length and breadth of the island to largely drink tea…and once holy water with the ex-minister of the CUF. It’s been great.

But Zanzibar has two distinct worlds, worlds that don’t particularly mix: The above world and the tourist world. I had last week off work , my family had sailed off to Dar es Salaam and not looking forward to clutching blunt objects alone (I’m exaggerating now) I decided to shed my wholesome ways, meet some travellers and have a bit of good old western fun. Insert Konyagi. I thought it would act as a little break as I’m hitting the half-way point between Christmas and my inevitable return to Blighty but the effects have been rather unexpected. Instead of a nice relaxing time I have found myself increasingly irritated about crossing the divide.    

In Stone Town the tourist section essentially runs down the seafront. It’s beautiful, expensive and juxtaposed with Jang’ombe, heaven on earth. Despite being the low season if you’re looking to find some people who understand your need for a glass of white wine, it’s the place to head. But despite sharing my love of all things alcoholic, some of their views on Zanzibar have left me somewhat astounded.

Holiday makers, I exclude you, you’re here for the beach and your Jilly Cooper. Carry on. And those who’ve been here a while, we just smile, roll our eyes and decide there’s no need to exchange words. It’s the whistle-stop backpackers I’ve got beef with.

People seem to roll in, get drunk and roll out preaching they had ‘such a cultural experience’ without ever stepping outside a bar. Despite my pleas many have refused to relinquish their hot pants or urinating in the street. The ask for daylight discretion was met with ‘I act this way at home so why should I change for anyone else?’ and largely all regard for ‘cultural difference’ has been ignored. By continual bar hopping they have been hounded by beach boys and drug sellers and subsequently leave with a view that Zanzibari’s are uneducated and only out to rip you off or sleep with you (please refer to Islamic law for the ridiculousness of this statements). They are practically flawed when I say ‘yes, everyone in my house gets up at 5am for prayer, no they don’t drink, and yes we do take breaks in our staff meetings for prayer’. Unfortunately it’s then a view they take home with them or pass on to fellow travellers.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone don a hijab and give up drinking in their time here but a little bit of sensitivity goes a long way. Most Zanzibari’s tolerate tourists and after much discussion believe that it does have some benefits for the archipelago. One of my students said, very diplomatically, that it wasn’t bad behaviour we exhibited but a difference in culture.

Equally many fear the detriment to their own culture and are genuinely offended by the behaviour that they witness. My neighbour joked that she found it funny that westerners who live here for a while start to cover themselves, When asked if she would have approached me if I was wearing shorts and a strap top she instantly said ‘no way, I would have thought you were bad news’: Point proven.

There is a great distrust of foreigners as many sit in their homes watching their way of life being encroached upon and as large resorts privatise beaches, many are losing out on local resources. The government has managed the rise in tourism badly and people are seeing the cost of living rocket without better job opportunities presenting themselves.

Tourists get a bad rep when most are here for a family holiday, keep themselves to themselves and head home. It’s the few that roll through collecting beer mats and hangovers as they go without caring how they are viewed that give all westerners a bad name.

Ultimately I found myself in a situation that was more uncomfortable and confusing than tackling a curry with my bare hands. Maybe you should put the tequila down, head out into the streets and actually discover Zanzibar. If you cannot leave the confines of a bar then at least have the common sense to realise than Zanzibar is further reaching than that. An entire world exists which will never collide with happy hour in Mercury’s.

Sorry to be a know it all but that’s the way I am in England so why should I change for anyone else?