Whose Lobola Is It Anyway?

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For those of you who do not know, lobola is a dowry or bride price that is given to the bride’s family by the groom’s. The word encompasses a marriage custom that has been practised in Africa for generations and has evolved as society has changed.

I recently attended a relative’s lobola ceremony where we were representing the bride’s side of the family. It was only the second time that I had been a part of one and it was both a pleasant and an unpleasant experience. And it made me think. I want to raise some issues that the custom brings up and would love your engagement on them.

The benefit and cost of lobola

Every custom and traditional practice serves a purpose for that particular group of people that observes it. Or at least it is supposed to. Traditionally, lobola has been one of the ceremonies that forms a part of the process of solemnising a marriage as well as bringing the two families together. From beginning to end, there are steps that must be followed and ways of doing things that are very specific. For example, there are certain people who can attend the negotiation and presentation ceremonies and others who are excluded. The groom’s family should be especially careful to perform their obligations lest they offend the bride’s family.

There is a blessing and a curse in lobola. It is blessing because it provides a framework within which a couple can make their relationship official, before those closest to them and before the world. This, in contrast to the “hook up” culture that prevails amongst us today.  Very importantly, it makes sure that both people know the family that they are marrying into, which ensures that the couple will not be isolated.

On the other hand, the focus on the idea that two families are coming together, while promoting a sense of community, can take away from the fact that it is actually two people coming together. I have countless stories of people whose marriages were wrecked because of interference from parents, aunts and uncles. Every decision that the couple has to make must pass through the family council first and needs their approval.

The role of women and men

A very large number of women today have been raised in single parent households, usually by their mother. And yet the process today is still dominated by male family members who consult with other family members but ultimately are in charge of making the decisions. There is a share of the bride price and gifts that is given to the mother of the bride but the father as the head of the household, receives most of it on behalf of the the family.

I attended a ceremony where the father acted as the father of the bride even though he had made no contribution to the raising of his daughter. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. I think it is worth saying that I have no issue with a father occupying a position of honour per se but I think that, in that situation, he occupies a position that he is not entitled to. And it just looks like he is showing up at the end for the financial benefits. Surely there is something wrong with this?

I am also struck by the fact that in these kinds of ceremonies, women occupy a subservient position. And regrettably, it is not just at events such as this but is a prominent feature of our culture. The men sit in the house waiting to be served while the women slave away all day- peeling, chopping, cooking, cleaning and minding the children. The men discuss important matters and call for more beer every once in a while. Someone suggested that in times gone by, the men were probably in charge of slaughtering the livestock, chopping the wood etc, but convenience has changed things.

But if things have changed for men why do women still bear most of the burden?

Tradition for tradition’s sake?

There are so many more issues I could raise, like overcharging by families, made being delayed because families cannot agree and the culture clash that arises as a result of mixed marriages. What do you think?

Is lobola important to you?

Do you plan on observing it when you get married, do you have a choice?

Finally, has lobola lost it’s meaning or does it serve a legitimate purpose today?

Thanks for reading.
Shula

I met a guy in the waiting room… and I almost said yes

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Original image author: pixelperfectdigital.com#sthash.N5LsD7Tv.dpuf

Original image author: pixelperfectdigital.com

“No I don’t want your number, no I don’t wanna give you mine, no I don’t wanna meet you nowhere, no I don’t want none of your time.”

TLC, “No Scrubs”

This morning I met a man in the GP’s waiting room. He approached me stealthily and slid into the seat next to the seat next to me, on the left (the seat next to me had my handbag on it. I put it there when I saw him approaching). He was a nice man and we had a nice conversation during which he somehow managed to extract information like what I was studying, where I am from, when I am leaving town and why I was there. He even got my name. The guy was smooth and really persistent. And quite charming too, as he waxed lyrical about his PhD and his trips to Johannesburg. He was insisting on my number and I kept saying no.

But I almost said yes.

Maybe because I felt like I had no choice, possibly because I wondered what it might be like to say yes. But I stuck to my guns so he left and I waited to see the doctor. While I waited I had time to think about scenarios in which I would willingly give a guy my number and what that guy would have to be like. I have had at least three other similar encounters this year. Two of them happened on the same night at a border post just before I crossed into Zimbabwe and the third when I was stopped on the street by a guy who said he was really anxious to get to know me because he had seen me around campus and I  was”Looking good.” Let me be clear, these guys were not construction workers hollering from the back of a truck or old married men – they were decent-looking, educated and single young men. Yeah, I’m on a roll! And I have really perfected my speech when I need to let a man down gently and be nice about it. It goes something like:

“You know, it was really great to meet you and I enjoyed our chat but I just generally do not give my number out to anyone except people that I know really well. But if I see you again, we can definitely have a conversation. Thank you so much. *smiles tightly*”

It has worked so far and the usual response is something like, “Okay, that is fine. Thank you.” The guys know that at that point they do not have a chance.

It is kind of ironic that that random encounter happened in a waiting room. It reminds me of how being single young adult feels like serving time in a waiting room. Read my series “Waiting for God-oh to bring you a boy-oh?”

Part I ~ Part II ~ Part III

I sometimes worry that I will never meet a man that I can actually say yes to. I worry that my ‘standards’, suspiciousness and expectations will stand between me and giving a guy a chance. Or that the kind of guy that I would want to be with would not have the courage or boldness to step up and face the risk of me saying no. If you feel like I have been feeling, I have two thoughts to share with you:

Rest in God. Do not be anxious. Give your desires to God, be honest about your fears and choose to trust Him with your love life.

Relax. Be open. Do not be an ice queen who freezes men out of her life. Make lots of good, decent guy friends.

That is all I have to say. I know you have something to add. Comment below or hit me up on Facebook/ Twitter!

Thanks for reading.

shula.

Trench Coat Thursday (TCT) :: Lesbianism // Her Story

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*Some weeks ago I decided that I wanted to do a series on sexual orientation for TCT. A few friends kindly agreed to share their stories and thoughts on the topic on this blog, this is the first of four that I will share. I have spent many weeks asking myself what my aim is and I have decided that the point is to start a conversation. Please don’t get bogged down on terminology and technical definitions about things like “gender”, “same-sex attraction”, etc let’s focus on the main issue.

Please engage: I have some questions at the bottom that I would love for you to respond to, feel free to share your thoughts. Most of all, please respect this person’s story, their experience and their views but feel free to challenge them, or disagree.

I’m going to write a follow up post to this and it will be based on your responses to this post- happy TCT!

“I’ll never forget the day – I was 11 or 12 years old when I read an article about a woman who said she was gay. She wrote about her childhood, how she had been raised by her single-parent mother and preferred spending time with boys more than she did with girls. I could relate to that. Further on, she explained how she began developing crushes on girls, in the say way as boys would. I didn’t finish reading the article as it began to make me feel uncomfortable. I knew what the end result would be and I was afraid I was heading in the same direction. I kept it to myself for a few days, but my mother could sense that something was bothering me. After endless hours of probing and interrogating, I broke down in tears and showed her the magazine article.

Sometime prior to that experience I remember my mom lamenting on how deranged and twisted homosexuals are.

I was going through puberty – apparently it was normal to be feel this way at that particular age. My mother convinced me that I was simply going through a phase. Life went on. Instead of confronting my emotions, I suppressed them.

Tertiary is where everything intensified. I entered into an environment where it was generally acceptable and encouraged to be openly gay. Once again I was plagued with feelings I had tried so long to avoid and this time they were stronger than ever. After another brief emotional breakdown, I confessed to my mom that I was attracted to women. I have always admired her for her strong faith and wisdom, but this time she looked so helpless and disappointed. I knew that she was partly blaming herself. She’d ask questions like: “If you think you’re gay, why were you in a relationship with a boy?” and “Are you saying these things to punish me for not giving you the life that you wanted?” It was an issue that would gradually cause us to drift apart.

I was raised a Christian and had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, yet there was still an emotional barrier between me and Him.

Like my earthly father I perceived God to be emotionally distant (and only willing to participate when it suited Him). Since my own mother had trouble accepting me unconditionally I had little faith in anyone else. The genuine prayers I prayed to God were for Him to either remove my attraction towards women, or to end my life. The last thing I wanted to be was gay (especially if it would bring shame to my family). Ironically, this experience eventually drew me closer to God. There were no pretenses – I was angry because I felt that He wasn’t answering my prayer.

My most severe breakdown was a turning point in my relationship with Him. Over time I was led to the right counsellors and friends who displayed compassion and unconditional love, especially when I struggled to love myself. God had kept His promise – He had been with me all along, I was just too blind to see it. As the walls of pride and distrust slowly broke down, my desire for Christ grew stronger. When I asked for my sins to be forgiven I could forgive myself for the wrong choices I had made. My relationship with my mom also improved.

Many Christians I know don’t experience same-sex attraction (I have met very few who honestly do), so they cannot relate to a gay person’s plight. Like the world, I have seen Christians fall into two extremes: they will either be liberal towards homosexuality (these tend to be young Christians), while some may hide their apparent prejudices behind Bible scriptures. Other Christians genuinely love their gay friends because they see more to them then their sexual orientation. They try to be an example of Christ and not base their acceptance on their own preferences or feelings.

I find that there appears to be too many assumptions: Christians have many preconceived ideas about gays and lesbians, and vice versa.

I have learned that when a man says he is gay, it does not necessarily mean that he is engaging in sexual activity. To him the term “being gay” is a noun as opposed to an adjective. He does not view women the same way a man with heterosexual desires would, nor does he want to be sexually intimate with her. He doesn’t believe that there is anything wrong with feeling this way, until people convince him otherwise. Perhaps then there’s also an issue with definitions?

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, it is holiness.”

I believe that until biblical singleness is revived, the Church will not be ready to address homosexuality. Singles fall into a wide spectrum and also have their own unique challenges and temptations. Their voices deserve to be heard, and they need to be utilised more efficiently in the body of Christ. Marriage is good and it certainly needs all the support it can get from the Church, but it has been idolised in so many respects. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that many gay people now view marriage as a right. We live in a sex saturated culture and it is therefore imperative that the Church does not shy away from the topic of sex and sexuality.

Ultimately our goal is to be Christ orientated, not fall into the traps the enemy has laid out.

I am not saying that we should wait until biblical singleness is addressed until we speak about homosexuality. It is a current topic that should be openly spoken about just like everything else. A Christian who experiences same-sex attraction should be comfortable in openly expressing the challenges that he/has faced among fellow Christians without feeling as though they are being patronised.”

Questions:

What kinds of assumptions do people have about homosexuality?

In what ways does her story challenge your views?

Do you think the issue of sexual orientation, particularly issues to do with lesbianism, gayness, bisexuality should be talked about more? Why/ why not?


Please comment, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading.

shula.

Trench Coat Thursday (TCT) :: The Naked Truth

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*Please note that any reference made to sex is to be construed as happening between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship.

This year I re-watched Season 1, 2 and 3 of the TV show Arrested Development. It is about the dysfunctional Bluth family and the ridiculous things they get up to. One of the characters is a man named Tobias Funke. He is married to Lindsay Funke (nee Bluth) and one of the running jokes in the show is that Tobias is a ‘never-nude’ – he can never be completely naked, not in front of his wife, not even when he takes a bath or showers. He wears blue cutoffs all the time and his fear of being completely naked is just one of many problems in Tobias and Lindsay’s marriage.

The show frames his nudity issue in a way that is really hilarious but if you think about it is not funny at all. It is really sad. For whatever reason, he wants to hide what is underneath those cutoffs. His behavior is bizarre but I can kind of understand it.

My friends and I often talk about how excited we are about marriage and finally being able to know a man inside- out. How wonderful! But we forget that it means giving ourselves to another person, completely – stretch marks, folds and all.

How terrifying.

Two things about sex are a little inconvenient: firstly, it is done naked and that’s something that’s really hard to avoid. Secondly, it necessarily involves someone other than yourself – someone with their own opinions, thoughts, prejudices, someone you cannot control. That is scary. And when we’re scared we hide.

Here’s a guide on how to get naked:

Strip off coat the coat of perfection.
Yes, I know that it’s been said that “God don’t make ugly!” but maybe He makes ‘unattractive’? Because there are parts of me that cannot be described as anything else. I can’t deny it! A friend recently said to me: “My friend, you are not perfect. But nobody expects you to be.” It stung a little, as truth sometimes does, but I really needed to hear it. We all need to hear that people see our imperfections but love us anyway. That our imperfections are part of what makes us human.

My friend, your body isn’t perfect, but no one expects it to be.

Tear of the shirt of shame.
For different reasons, some of us associate nakedness with being “dirty”. And the thought of being naked feels wrong. Maybe it’s cause you’re a Christian who has spent most of their life trying not to get naked and you may have been taught that your body and all things related to it are evil. Or perhaps your ideas of nakedness became perverted early on: through porn, someone else sexually violating you, or any number of things.

What we are ashamed of we will always hide. In many ways being ashamed is a comfortable place to be in because we’ve felt that way for so long and can’t really imagine what it’s like to feel otherwise. And it feels easier to hide than to deal with the stuff.

But shame has a way of growing and leaving no room for anything else. You start hiding the stuff you are ashamed about and then you end up hiding you.

Continue reading

Femme Friday :: What is the easy way to win a woman’s heart? For the guys.

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Guys, so you want to know the answer to the above? You have come to the right place.

Q: What is the easy way to win a woman’s heart?

A: There is no easy way!

But, I do have some links that will help you step up your game 😉

Here are some of my recommendations, all you need to do is click and you’ll be sent straight to the wesbites:

1. Read the Guy’s and Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well from Boundless.org.

2. If you are in the friend-zone and you are not sure where things are going, do this ‘Determine the Relationship’ Test.

3. Learn to express your emotions healthily. Girls love a man who knows when to cry and when to keep his emotions in check.

4. Brush your teeth , and keep your breath fresh- you would be seriously surprised at how much bad breath matters to women- you could be the most amazing guy but if your breath is dodgy then, hmm… Also, shower every day before you emerge in public and smell nice- every woman loves a man who smells good!

5. Most importantly, be a man under the leadership of Christ. You can get help to do that here, here, here, here, and here.

What do you think guys?

Thank you for reading.

shula

Trench Coat Thursday (TCT) :: much ado about virginity

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*Warning: some of you might find this post awkward.

On a Monday while sitting on the back of a bakkie (truck), my friends and I began to talk about the ways in which we have heard a woman can ‘lose’ her virginity: riding a horse; riding a bicycle; regular spinning sessions at the gym; trying to get on the back of a bakkie; breathing too hard…

Ask any woman and she has a list of ways that she’s heard one’s virginity can be lost. Or maybe don’t ask and just take my word for it?

For the longest time I’ve had such a sense of pride in my virginity. By ‘pride’ I mean that I thought I was better than anyone who’d failed to guard their chastity belt with all diligence. You see, the message I’ve received is that in the world there are the ‘clean girls’ and the ‘dirty girls’. The clean girls go to church on Sunday, don’t show their boobs or butt and keep their garden locked tight. The bad girls, well, we know what the bad girls have done.

In the Christian community virginity is a big issue. And sometimes even big business! Books, DVDs, purity rings, promise cards – all about why people should stay virgins. And while most of the world is moving away from regarding virginity as valuable, it’s also big in some non- Christian communities too – for example, in many customary marriage traditions, when negotiations are taking place, the fact that the bride is a ‘maiden’ is taken into account. Virginity is valued. Virginity is even a form of currency.

For the single guys and girls who are virgins – what does being a virgin mean to you?

For those singles whose virginity is ‘lost’ – have you ever felt like a second class citizen when you’re in a singles seminar/ sermon/ church because you’re an ?

The gist of these questions is: has your virginity/ non-virginity become the lens through which you see yourself – as special, valuable, clean, undesirable OR common, damaged goods, dirty, sex bombish?

Have you ever stopped to consider what informs your views on virginity? I’ve wrestled a lot with this topic because it’s such an important issue! I even struggled to get this post finished for that reason.

Eventually, I’ve settled on two thoughts that will hopefully challenge your way of thinking about virginity. Here goes:

Virginity and purity are not the same thing.

I spent some time reading my Bible earlier today to try and find a reference of God saying that being a virgin means that you are pure. I couldn’t find any! Some of us are virgins because we just haven’t had the opportunity,not by choice! Others are technically virgins but have the dirtiest minds. True purity is an inward reality that manifests itself physically.

Virginity is not an end in itself.

The Bible contains chapters where God encourages His people to set themselves apart as a holy people, particularly in the area of sexuality at a time when the people around them were indulging in some licentious sexual behaviour. We often fix our eyes on the rules and we miss the point – God wasn’t just concerned with them not having sex however they wanted, whenever they wanted – their following these rules were meant to be an act of love towards God, a demonstration of their commitment and faithfulness to Him. Virginity until marriage for them spoke of the fact that they were a special creation, their bodies were made for intimacy and not just sex. Virginity had a deeper significance!

For readers who are still virgins and those who are not, I hope that you’ll come to a place of really examining your views on virginity and consider seeking God on it. I believe that we may have become obsessed with virginity, in the sense that we miss the fact that virginity is not just about the body but the heart too. I also believe that, in the church, we’ve made virginity a mark of privilege and proof of righteousness and missed the fact that Christ has become our righteousness. Before Christ came into the picture, you, dear virgin, were no more righteous than the guy standing next to you who has slept with more women than he can count. Or the guy who licks his lips like LL Cool J every time he sees you…

Eew.

And when Christ comes into the picture, God sees you both the same – as blameless and pure as Jesus.

That makes me uncomfortable. So does the fact that I’ll one day have to hand in my V badge. But that’s for another post!

What are your thoughts?

being a black woman is not easy

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“Brown skin, you know I love your brown skin. I can’t tell where yours begins, can’t tell where mine ends.” India Arie

I am passionate about womanhood and I am always asking myself what it means to be a woman. Looking for answers in the Bible, looking around me and reading up online and in books.

Most recently I have been asking myself the question: What does it mean to be a black woman. This post will contain some strong generalisations but I am ok with that. Because I think the majority of black women fit into these generalisations. If you disagree, please comment! If you agree, comment too!

I have just asked myself why I am writing this post. I think it is because it is my way of understanding who I am and what has shaped me. And  perhaps  to help anyone who is curious to understand what it is like to live in this skin.

Why do you have to make it about colour though? It is not really comfortable to say this but my opinion is this: we cannot avoid the colour thing. For a black person, being black is such a big part of your identity. For black people in Africa, I believe that that has a lot to do with the colonial legacy. When you/ your parents/ your grandparents are a part of society that distributes income, housing, education, even freedom according to the colour of your skin, the colour thing is not just something that goes away because the government has changed. It goes deep.

For many of us, being black is our primary identity, whether we’re aware of it or not. Is that how it should be? Well, that’s up for debate! Everything I write here is up for debate, these are my views and I look forward to hearing yours.

Here are my thoughts on why being a black woman is not easy.

Most of us grew up with absent / abusive / unfaithful fathers.

I have chosen to make this one a launching pad because the first place a black woman learns what it means to be a black woman is in our childhood home. The pattern of our experiences in childhood become defining moments, for better or worse.

I don’t believe that should hate our fathers. I do believe that we should face the facts about them. How many black women do you know whose fathers are decent, loving and present in the home? Most of us just have a blank space where our dads are supposed to be. Or if he was there physically he was violent, verbally abusive or emotionally absent.

I have had many a conversation with my guy friends about their issues with black women: “Hayi (no), you guys are too strong! You leave no room for a man in your life!” Black women have had to learn to be strong, to not ever have to rely on anyone, certainly not a man for anything. For a black woman, this is not a cute ideological tag on to our lives, we feel it is necessary for our survival!

Most of us will admit that we do not really trust our fathers to be there for us when we really need them. We love our mothers to death, they have their faults. But we love them because we know that they had to be both the mother and the father, they were there when our dads couldn’t/ wouldn’t. The consequences of this is that we either really struggle to trust men, to connect with them

because we have trained ourselves to harden our hearts. On the other end of the spectrum, we may spend all our lives looking for affirmation in men, we long for their love, we trust too easily.

Most of us have serious self image issues.

Ok, granted this is a general woman issue. Or even a people issue, men included. But if you will allow me to, I would like to argue that things are a bit different for black women. For example, where I live there is an area where there are many little hair salons lining the streets. It is common to see a hairdresser standing outside trying to convince women to come and do their hair – braid it, weave it, relax it. Each time I walk past, without exception, one of these women will ambush me and tell me about all the ways they can “fix” my hair. You see, I have an afro. A big and untamed one and it is always amusing to see the look on their faces when I explain that it is not something I want remedied! It is how my hair naturally is and I want to keep it that way.

Yes, yes, we know that all women face a lot of pressure to conform to a certain standard of womanhood but many black women learn from a very young age that their hair is a problem and the lighter in complexion you are, the prettier you are. If I had R1 for every time the teenage girls I live with have complained about how “ugly” they look because they had to spend all afternoon in the sun, I’d be as rich as Kenny Kunene!

Most of my white friends do not have to worry about whether their natural hair will count against them in a job interview but that is a reality for many black women. Whether they look “professional” enough. I really love hip hop and R ‘n’ B but I realise that the portrayal of women in that genre is really harmful to women, particularly black women. I have seen it in the way that girls long to have a butt and boobs like Nicki Minaj, the pressure that black men put on women to conform to the hip hop candy/ video girl ideal. Skin lightening creams, hair extensions and hair relaxers are big business where black women live! Sadly, most black women will spend their whole lives reaching for a standard of beauty that is urealistic and unattainable.

Most black women are achievers and their male counterparts lag behind them.

Listen, I am by no means a man basher and I hope that I do not come across as one. Many black women have resigned themselves to the fact they will never meet and marry/ have a long term relationship with a man who is “at their level”. I see this amongst my relatives and my friends. Most black women I know, at different levels of income and education, are hardworking, disciplined and can take care of themselves. Many of us worry that we will never find a black man who is the same. We look around and all we see is boys. Boys still living off their momma’s money, boys with their jeans hanging way too low, boys who have no vision for their lives and are really not going anywhere.

I have seen this problem played out in church. The black women are in the ushering team, set up team, tea-serving team, the choir and the decorating team. The black guys (who probably make up about 5% of the church- I exaggerate!) are the guys who arrive late, sit at the back and leave as soon as the preacher says, “Amen!” Black men seem to struggle with spiritual topics and are really weak in that area. For spiritually strong women who think it is important to find a partner they can connect with at this level, this is really important! Most of us have given up on black men altogether and set our affections on the “white brothers” instead but in our heart of hearts we believe that we hope in vain!

Being a black woman is not easy. The understatement of the year! Being a black woman is a fight!

What are your thoughts?