Monday, November 29, 2004

Love for Sale…

My stomach churned as I watched the documentary on the Odyssey channel on a Sunday Afternoon. I watched as various women documented how Russia had become the place to fetch a wife. In a male chauvinistic country where women are degraded and sentenced to a future of either domestic or middleclass jobs, many are easy targets for rich American men promising them more. Besides being hard and chauvinistic, most Russian will never have the means to provide what we consider a decent home environment. Furthermore, their ancestral backgrounds confine them to their hard personalities which know very little of the sensitive attentions that a woman needs.

Not being allowed to study much further, either by their families or their educational facilities, a woman can only settle for a middleclass job reserved for women only. Executive women are rare and much criticised in a country like Russia. So when an American man comes along and promises a woman like this, a family, a home, freedom of choice and expression… how can such a proposal be refused?

Did you know that in Russia there are agencies that advertise women for marriage like the sale of an animal? Over the Internet you will find the pictures and profiles of beautiful Russian women at your disposal to choose from. These are not professional women; they are simple women like the ones you find walking on your streets or living next door, and they’re simply looking for a way out, freedom, and independence.

What would you do for your freedom of speech and opinion?

For my independence I packed my life and walked away from the country that I loved and was raised in, I left my parents and the roof over my head and eventually I earned a place that I call my own. I cried, I worked; I sweated and earned my independence. But would I marry for it? My mother did… she’s no longer married to my father. Their marriage and divorce affected four souls and surrounding family members.

Tears fell down my face as I listened to women document how they meet and marry these American men. Practically forced to fall “in love” with these men, these women see them as a future that Russia could never promise them. Most of these men, old and rich could not find a partner is their mother country so they go where they know the women are desperate for what they can provide… a stable and independent life. In return, these men are compensated with a beautiful bride, a woman that is feminine in the way she dresses and in the way she thinks. They know that these women will never ask too much of them and will appreciate everything they are given in return. Basically their prize is a beautiful Barbie Doll that does everything Betty Crocket does in the kitchen, Julie Andrews does with kids and Madonna does in the bedroom. They become instant owners to these women… but will they ever own their hearts?

At what price does one buy a woman’s heart?

On the documentary, one of the men asked his Russian girlfriend to marry him. She spoke alone to the cameras saying “I’m not sure that I love him, but how can I not when he provides me with all these things. He gives me an apartment and takes care of my clothes, he must surely care for me… yes, I must love him, I must marry him”
My heart broke along with the tears that ran down my face. A woman that loves would never ask herself that question. When you truly love, it is usually the only thing you can be sure about. Doubt everything about him except for the way you feel. To ask yourself if you’re in love is to admit that you’ve never known the feeling. My reason for crying was at the realisation that most Russian women, will never know the true significance of what makes the world go round. These women are left with very little choice, when their own men cannot give them the loving affection they deserve; it is little wonder that they see these Americans as the answer to their prayers. These desperate losers (for you cannot call anything else to a man who buys a woman) become their knights in shining armour.

Some of these marriages work out… after living with someone for a good amount of time, you might find that they are truly the soul that yours has been searching for all along. But what if they aren’t? What if you wake up each morning next to someone you know that your heart will never belong to? How can either party be satisfied with such an arrangement?

I believe that the worst torture a human being can put herself \himself through is to succumb to the illusion of love. To believe that one is happy living my society’s vision of happiness. Imagine waking each morning to the face of someone that you know will never fill your heart nor take your breath away. To do so, is the same as condemning yourself and your partner to a life half-lived. It is a tragedy when two people settle for sex and a friendship to try and fill that empty void. Don’t they know that it only makes the emptiness wider? Don’t they know that they only become lonelier and that they days that go past become time wasted?

I for one will rather live all my days alone and with a whole heart being broken than to condemn myself to a life of emptiness. If I really care about my partner, would I also keep them from going out and finding their true love? I may be alone, I may be without a partner, but at least I’m being honest with myself and sincere to the men who care about me.

I was told that I was being silly. That most of these women were given the opportunity to live like queens and would without a doubt be much happier. I somehow cannot grasp this concept. Of course they will much rather choose their American life to their Russian one but whether or not they will be happy will depend if they ever known love…
A woman cannot nor will not forget the power that love has over her heart. She cannot forget the magic in the touch of a loved one… the intensity found his words… the way his voice vibrates her soul and his warmth envelopes her body. No woman can ever forget the power of love. No woman who has felt it can ever settle for anything but love and she who does, can never feel whole. The heart of a woman is priceless, it cannot be bought. Prizing my independence as much as I do, I can still risk saying that I would give it up for love rather than possess it with an empty heart.

Any man can possess a woman’s body but only true love will possess her heart.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Sunshine’s Diary.

Which famous person do other people mistake you for? I have a friend that is the splitting image of Anastacia and another that behaves like Jim Carrey. Once I even met a woman that sounded just like Fran Drescher. Even though we are all individuals, there are similarities either physical or behavioural that will resemble us to someone famous... Someone that people recognise in us.

I always wanted to be compared to Sandra Bullock. Perhaps because she’s simple yet beautiful in every way. She uses simple language, but one that can be both accepted and understood by the ignorant and wise alike. She can look just as good in her tracksuit as she does in her ballroom gown. But perhaps what I like most about her is the way the sun shines from her face when she smiles.
However… I look nothing like Sandra Bullock and perhaps the only thing we have in common is our hair colour… although I’m pretty sure that she probably has less trouble with hers that I do with mine!

I once was told that I looked like Drew Barrymore. Drew Barrymore?!! The picture of the Charlie’s Angel looks nothing like the picture I see in the mirror each morning… except perhaps for our skin tones. Our skins both look like they’ve never been seen by the sun and the closest we’ll ever come to a tan is the shade of Lobster.
It was the fact that it was a small child that made the observation that encouraged me to actually look for the resemblance. On finding none, I decided to ask what it was that the kid saw that I didn’t. I was simply told that for no apparent reason, I reminded him of the girl on the movie “Wedding Singer.” Ironically… I thought that same little kid reminded me of Adam Sandler and decided that the comparison ended there.

About a week ago, I was told that my writing sounded like something out of Bridget Jones Diary… and immediately I was intrigued. I watched the first Bridget Jones movie with one thought on my mind: “Oh God, there’s the story of my life”. Through the botch-ups and bad choices, her every word sounded like the very stupid thing I would say. I had decided then and there, not to watch it again so not to become depressed at the idea that it would take me ten years to find a decent boyfriend.
I immediately knew on watching the trailer to the sequel of Bridget Jones Diary that watching it would be bittersweet frustration. However, I can’t resist a good comedy and I just had to find out what it was that made me resemble her.

Here’s the part where those who haven’t watched the movie close the window and return to it only after watching the movie… for those who’ve already watched it, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the movie was bloody brilliant! You sat glued to your chairs watching Bridget single-handedly turn a perfectly good life upside down and although you’d love to slap some sense into her, you can’t help but cross your fingers so that everything works out in the end.

So now onto the similarities…
* Excess body weight with plenty extra wobbly bits… Check.
* Always has something stupid to say right at the tip of tongue and lets it out before thinking…. Check.
* Always goes for the wrong type of guys… double check!
* Hates going shopping, never finds anything that fits… check
* Has the worse timing possible… check
* Owns a diary… There’s where I beat her arse by having my own column as well!

I wouldn’t say that we think alike but calling a bunch of rich, stuck-up lawyers snotty brings back a memory of when I did the same at an evening gala not too long ago. And for someone who has a diary and who’s job is to be articulate, she sure muddles words at the most crucial moments. Fantasizing is a small flaw to someone with a healthy imagination and the fact that she can think of marriage in the middle of a skydiving jump reminds me of the most inappropriate thoughts that I had the last time I was caught in the dentist’s chair. Perhaps the thing that she did that most made me relate to her was when she got an entire cell full of incarcerated women to sing Madonna’s “like a virgin” adding to it coordinated dance moves. I couldn’t help smiling when I recalled that just that morning, I’d made a complete ass of myself whilst singing to the bathroom mirror at work. My colleague that was standing outside, has made sure that I don’t forget the incident anytime soon. My only comfort is that I was told that at least I could rely on my singing talents should my boss be the one to have caught me and fired me.

The bad luck, the bad timing and exclusive originally stupid things Bridget Jones says and does can definitely resemble Sunshine the person, and the blonde hair is the only physical trait we don’t have in common. Once again I walked out of the cinema saying “Oh God… that’s me in ten years”. The similarities are uncanny and I began thinking that the author of Bridget Jones must’ve traded notes with my maker.


Even though I might look, sound and resemble the character to one of the best movies I’ve ever seen… I am nobody but myself. I prefer to think that someone dreamed me up, wrote about me in a book and called the character Bridget. For I could never be somebody else, nor would I want to be compared to anyone. Why would I want to be anyone else if I can be me?
I’d love to meet Bridget, I’d love to sit down to coffee and constantly repeat “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean!”. We could share the goofy chapters of our lives and she could tell me what a kiss from a lesbian will feel like (Like a good friend says… never say never). It will be good to talk to someone who knows exactly where I’m coming from. I feel that women around the world probably have an easier time to relate to her than they do to Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron. She is perhaps, the most real character I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

All in all, I don’t think I’d mind living a Bridget Jones life, perhaps I already do live one similar to hers… the only difference, are the endings.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


Switching my body and mind on automatic pilot, my soul decided it needed a break. So while the world kept spinning, I watched my week go by from the sidelines. Avoiding anybody and any kind of talk that would remove me from my comfort zone, I gave myself the time-out needed to recover from the rat race. You’ll be surprised at the things you pick up, when you begin to watch your life as the audience of a movie. Things become more objective and emotions are forced into neutral, making you feel that in some small way, time for you has stopped. And those twenty-four hours that don’t seem to amount to much during any other time in your life suddenly seem sufficient for all the things you need to do.

I’m finally being educated on Portuguese music! A good friend of mine took pity on my ignorance and decided to make me a copy of some of his favourite Portuguese albums. Although I was given three CD´s… I haven’t gotten past the first one. An album called “Moments” by a character that sings, eats and sleeps in his sunglasses; has put the sound to my mood. Music that is neither sad, nor happy yet empowering is all I’ve been listening to since I got it. The artist seems to know how to add words to feelings that are hard to express. He sings of moments and time and eternity… a space of existence that every human being can relate to.

Have you ever forgotten a memory so special that when you’re reminded of it, you scold yourself for ever having forgotten it?
This usually happens when we pass a difficult stage or period of suffering, that we try and erase that time from our memories. In doing so, we often block out some of the good memories as well.

The dreams I love the most are those that you can watch from the sidelines like a movie. You’re not required to think or participate, your only function is to watch. Two nights ago, I relived one of the most significant moments of my life through a dream. I dreamt that I sat on the side of a swimming pool with my legs dipped in the water. Looking around me I recognised the pool and the house as belonging to friends from South Africa. There were kids around and the chubby little girl with long thick hair that was playing with them was none other than me at fourteen years old. It was clear by my tomboyish behaviour that at that stage, I still hadn’t noticed the “attraction” of the opposite sex. Making bombs and telling snotty jokes with the boys still came naturally to me at that stage and the scenery I observed was a hot day in summer where I’d spent the whole of my Saturday from morning to evening in the pool with the boys. Being the only girl between them didn’t bother me although I was the one most picked on and not cut any slack for being of the “weaker sex”. I was dunked and thrown in the pool like any of them and I enjoyed every moment of it. One of those boys was my cousin and another was my “worst enemy”. Being the son of my mother’s best friend, he was to be my childhood torment… and my best friend; I called him Scorpio due to his nature and astrological sign. As punishment or whenever I didn’t do what he wanted (which was most of the time… I was stubborn girl!), I would get punished. In the pool, I was dunked.
Definition of a dunk: he would grab me in the pool and pull me down into the water.
There was no use fighting against his brute strength (although that didn’t prevent me from trying) and in one day I’d be dunked approximately 50-80 times.
I watched myself play with the boys until finally the evening set in. At around eight o’clock and after being inside the pool the whole day, hunger finally set in and everyone got out the pool in the direction of the kitchen. Everyone excepting for me and Scorpio. At first he decided that I couldn’t leave the pool without being dunked another 15 times… and although I put up a darn good fight, he still got his way with me. I watched myself walk out the pool and reach for a towel but then suddenly stopping and turning around. Scorpio hadn’t followed me like he was supposed to; instead he smiled and asked me if I wanted to be dunked again. This time, he wasn’t threatening, he was simply asking me as if it were something I wanted to do. Maybe it was the full moon or the bright stars, for I watched myself drop my towel, look back at him and instead of putting up a fight I moved towards him agreeing to his proposal.
At this point, I stopped watching from the sidelines and decided to get into the pool move closer to the two people, oblivious to my presence. The younger version of me looked insecure, probably expecting to be violently shoved under the water at any moment. Instead, she put her arms around his neck without any resistance and he pulled them both up and down the water until they were dizzy! Finally coming up, I watched myself looking him straight in the eyes and feeling confused. Back then I thought that the funny feeling in the pit of my stomach was hunger, how could I possibly have forgotten the very first time I felt butterflies for the opposite sex?

I woke up with a smile of satisfaction of remembering a special moment that I thought I’d lost. That joy was replaced with melancholy after sitting up in my bed and remembering the road that had followed that memory and the destination I found myself now. Isn’t it funny at how things turn out? I recall a stage when we stopped talking to each other, and then the phase of reconciliation and then the separation. I remember that my mother took it upon herself to inform all her friends on the day I bought my ticket to leave South Africa and yet Scorpio’s mother and father had taken six weeks to try and find the courage to tell their son this news. The night before I left, they’d still hadn’t found the courage to tell him so when I entered his room to say goodbye, It took him a while before he realised that there was something different in this goodbye. When I finally found the words to tell him that I would be leaving for good, I had to fight back tears. His girlfriend left the room after an enormous pause of silence. And for the last time, he held me for the longest time and wished me good luck.
I remember the look in his eyes, the words that he said… even the cologne he wore.
I remember a phone call six months later where he asked me with a serious tone if I was happy.
I remember the first day I met him, the day he taught me to skate, the first English word he taught me and even the first time our mothers went shopping…
I remember songs, words, and conversations… moments, priceless, timeless moments that make up the person that I am today.

Not so long ago, I thought that I’d never be able to think in Portuguese… that I could talk but not think in Portuguese. I thought I’d never understand the language or appreciate its music. Nowadays, I find that it doesn’t matter either way. Whether the word comes in English, Portuguese or Afrikaans, I find that it’s the significance behind it that carries all the weight and the fact that we’re all human, makes emotions a universal language.

Two hours ago, if I’d been asked what I’d been up to. My answer would’ve been “Nothing much”. After reflecting, listening to some great music, spending some time with myself and counting down the days until Christmas… I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been busy: living my moments.

Live your present so that in future, your past becomes your most valuable treasure.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Judging A Book By It’s Cover

Have you ever found a book that contained exactly, or more than what its cover promises you? Have you ever looked at a piece of fruit and find that once you’ve bitten into it, it has as much flavour and texture as what it looked to have? There are people that are nothing more, and nothing less than what they appear to be.Disappointment is mostly not the result of deception from the source… disappointment tends to be a direct result of self-deception.

“With that angel face of yours, I’ll bet you’ve fooled and misled many people”

How I wish that were true cowboy! It would be a sure guarantee that I’d never spend another night lonely; I’d be able to turn the manipulation game around and I’d start getting out of people what I wanted.

What you see is what you get.

Sincerity doesn’t depend on the words you use. Just as you use different paintbrushes on a painting, so also do you use different words adjusted to the people you’re dealing with. What keeps them sincere is the honesty that you deposit in them and making sure your message comes across clearly. Whatever my choice of words, they do not influence or alter my meaning and this makes me the same person through and through… This means that the girl you see in leather is the same you see in pink pyjamas with teddy bears on them and the only difference between the two, is in the eye of the beholder. As I’m sure you will agree… Snoopy underwear does not define or alter the abilities of its contents. If a face is scarred, mutilated or even hidden under a veil, the eyes will still reveal the true nature of the soul.

How to blow four guys off in three days:

1. When he invites you to lunch, tell him that you have a colleague from out of town (in this case from the mainland) and that you simply cannot abandon him.
2. When he refuses to get off the phone and suggests a meeting where he’d only talk about himself and see you through pink glasses, tell him you have a colleague on the other line who is from our of town and probably needs your help because he’s lost and needs directions.
3. To get out of a movie date, simply tell him that your colleague from out of town made a surprise entrance into your weekend and you simply cannot let him alone during this time.
4. To keep guys from coming to close to you and from trying their luck when you simply don’t feel like drawing them a picture… grab your colleague and show off on the dance floor. (Not that you’d need a reason to do just that but it helps keep the cowards away)
5. Lastly… when you simply do not want to place any more blame on your plant… conveniently use your stomachache to split from the party earlier.

Angels don’t dance, nor do they admit to human failure. This is why at the age of sixteen; they changed my nickname to Sunshine. I don’t pretend to be what I’m not. And for those lucky enough to pay attention… they get to see everything that I am: An open book with a cover that changes depending on the perspective of the reader, but constant in it’s contents… even when translated in a different language.

For someone, who believes and defends love… you’d say I’m pretty picky, fussy and even stupid to afford the luxury of letting guys go. Not many girls have the luxury of having a great guy wanting to be with them… I have two. So why not just go with the flow? Thus the dilemma for the past two weeks!

Nothing happens by chance, everything happens for a reason. My good cowboy friend gave me a great piece of advice to carry with me always:

To be with someone you’re not in love with leaves you with two very difficult options:
1. Be sincere and hurt them or …
2. Allow yourself to be forced into doing and saying things you don’t want to or feel.

It takes weeks of suffering to get to a conclusion that someone can give you in two minutes. Confusion dissipated almost immediately. I realised that I’ve never been a woman to settle for second best… I will not be forced into trying. Love doesn’t grow… it simply is or isn’t. I’ve never fooled anybody into believing they could win my heart. I’ve never misled someone into believing that I’m an easy woman. I don’t pretend and I don’t delude. Every person that crosses my path is given at least two clear warnings… and ample opportunity to know what I’m about. To discover me, is in their desire to do so. Therefore my dear friend… I hope I’ve changed your mind about my “angel face”… and I’ll leave the subject for a future reference when we’re both a little older and drunker.

Make sure that you are born and die an original.

Friday, November 12, 2004

You Know Who You Are…

Never underestimate the intuition of a woman. You’d be surprised what a woman knows just from relying on her instinct. Just when you think she’s oblivious to you or your intentions, she’s in fact quite in touch with the full reality.

I knew it was you when you missed called me at that hour. I didn’t think twice about the identity of the anonymous call just as I switched off my computer. It’s been months since I’ve had Internet or even heard from you, and I bet you must’ve been pretty surprised to see me log in to MSN.

This entry… is exclusively to let you know that I know it was you. I considered miss calling you back the same way; surely you’d know it was I responding.
But I didn’t think your ego deserved the effort.
I’m disappointed in you and considering you couldn’t bother about my reasons, I won’t bother to recognise your existence.

Not wanting to “use” my column to say the things I only say in person, the only thing I’d like to let you know is that I know it was you… and that the coward ness of an anonymous call won’t fix things. I’m willing to listen and willing to reply, but only the day you can master the courage to ask.

As for the rest of you reading this…

There are some things in life that can never be resolved with a phone call, letter, email or vague “hints”. If you want to connect to someone, obtains answers or even just to let them know you’re alive… there’s nothing like a “hello” and a simple conversation. You’d be surprised at the miracles of conversation. And for those of you seeking answers or opinions from me… quit guessing… ASK!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Evaluation Results.

They say that you grow an inch when you face up to your boss for the very first time. As much as this may contribute to my maturity and growth, it somehow did nothing for my spirits that simply sank from having to defend vacation rights that not only were rightfully mine but also more than well deserved. Being the sentimental fool that I am, I always seem to expect people to be human beings along with being in higher positions. The fact that I already sacrificed my vacation rights three times for the good of the company simply does not compute to a manager that only understands numbers and doesn’t enter the words “consideration” or “recognition” in his system. I was dismissed with a another questionnaire that is meant to evaluate my work satisfaction. My vacation depends on my ability to lie… which is why although I’ve won the battle, I’ll probably end up loosing the war!

A week ago my manager asked me to fill out a different evaluation sheet on him. I couldn’t hide the smile that went from ear to ear when he informed of my task. Although he deserved a good wake up call, I was sincere and lenient and although he will never know who gave him which results I wondered what he would do with the knowledge that most of the people under him are unsatisfied with his performance. I didn’t give him the lowest scores… nor the highest and felt at ease with my conscience for being the as honest as possible. Feeling sorry for him when looking at some of the other really low scores, I decided that these kinds of evaluations couldn’t be held as extremely accurate. Not everyone agrees on the same points and I’ve always been of the opinion that although what is being done might not be the best option, sometimes it’s the best that the person can do and he\she should be commended and recognised for that. Having the opportunity to fill out such an evaluation did have a good effect on my attitude though. Besides getting to put my opinions on paper, on having to evaluate certain issues, I also had to admit to the really good qualities in my manager… qualities that I don’t always appreciate.

I did however feel like re-evaluating him when after working seven and half hours of my weekend, I only got halfway through the work I needed to get through! Extra hours that would never be paid for nor appreciated, I began considering reviewing my curriculum vitae one more time… Instead I stared at an empty office and thought about road that I had travelled that had gotten me there.

Ambition removes the ability to appreciate previous accomplishments.

Getting on the bus, I thanked God that it would only be taking me ten minutes to arrive home opposed to the hour or two that it would take in a big city like Lisbon or London. Once again, I felt pressured by my inner battle of wills. A part of me is perfectly capable of being content with all I have; another part feels the need to explore all my capacities, knowledge and experience to the limits. Is there really the satisfaction I seek at the other end of the rainbow? No amount of thinking and counter-weighing brings me concrete conclusions or confidence so I try and not worry about the things I leave up to God and Fate to resolve. This doesn’t mean I give up on them, this means that while I give and do my best, I put doubts like these out of my mind at moments which I can’t resolve them in any case.
The highway to journey of life also has refill stations, SOS-lines and pit stops along the way. Even when you know you’re far from your destination or in this case… resolve, a road sign can be equivalent to your peace of mind.

While trying to distract myself from my thoughts, I caught a pair of big brown eyes. They belonged to a very distinct face attached to a very attractive body. Taking measurements, I immediately calculated from the well-toned muscles that this stranger was no stranger to the gym. The fact that his hands weren’t calloused confirmed that six-pack that was well defined under his back t-shirt wasn’t from a construction job and the way he held himself told me that behind those eyes there was culture and education. Looking around the bus, I smiled as I realised that I wasn’t the only woman taking his measurements and looking back at him, I wondered how full of himself he really was. Men who are that much noticed, have a tendency to be arrogant and selfish so I searched his face and eyes for a hint of self-importance. I couldn’t tell if the confidence he radiated was arrogance but I did deduce from the deep look in his eyes that there was intelligence present, giving him the capacity of becoming a formidable man if he ever overcame the physical advantage (hence disadvantage) that he had. These days little boys rarely grow into full grown men and the more attractive they are, the less they seem to depend on their intelligence and capacities of thinking like a free individual.

Engrossed in my thoughts, I only realised I was staring when I was met with the same direct stare from across the bus. We would probably never see each other again so what did I care if he thought me rude for staring?! I dared to stare him deep in the eyes and waited to see which of us would look away first. It seemed like almost an eternity until he looked away but I decided not to look again, hence start another story for my column… I’d already won the staring contest, so I looked away outside the bus window until arriving at my stop.

Laughing as I got out the bus, I chided at myself for easily creating a new episodes to my soap opera life! Tired of the disappointments that usually came from these kinds of adventures, I commended myself on being to walk away from small temptations and put it out my mind as I sang on my way home. Halfway home the shopping bag with all the milk threatened to break my fingers, so I stopped to switch hands. I hadn’t noticed there was anyone behind me until I saw another hand grab the grocery bag next to me.

Great! I came all the way across the ocean to live in a safer environment to be robbed of my groceries! I turned around, ready to aim a kick in the lower region of my thief’s body when I recognised the eyes of being those that I’d stared at on the bus.

Wonderful! I’m being stalked by a hunk!

“Can I give you some help with these?”
Why not? You have a gorgeous guy offering to carry your heavy bags for you, why suffer? The worst that could happen is that he ran away with my milk and juice and I’d have to settle for toast and yoghurt in the morning instead.

“I’m sorry for being so direct, but I just have to know why you looked at me the way your did on the bus”

The accent gave it immediately away that he was no local and probably had very little time on the island. I thought twice about whether I should just shrug it off or be truthful to his question, normally men don’t understand my answers to these questions. However the directness and sharpness of his question told me that he was no meatball and the least I could do to thank him for carrying my groceries was repay him with the same honesty and straightforwardness.

“Well… other than rating you as you as a good looking guy, I decided that your eyes looked pretty sad to me and that your whole aura in general depicted a broken heart.”
The lack of a smile to my first observation told me that he wasn’t as full as himself as he probably should be, and my second statement was clearly extremely accurate from the way he closed his eyes as if I’d slapped him and then lowered his gaze to his feet.
He explained himself by telling me that he had only been on the island for five months and that it hadn’t been easy considering his mother had stayed behind. I heard all the explanations from the words that he didn’t say and my own heart reminded me of the pain of being away from the people I love.
After the usual introductory chatter, I discovered that he indeed did spend all his time in the gym as an instructor and that he worked two jobs to help maintain the apartment that he’d recently moved in to. Wishing my new neighbour brighter days and a good evening, I cut any conversation that would lead to any further socialising and practically ran into my apartment once again plagued by my earlier inner wars. Do I really want to go through all the hassle of immigration once again? When do I settle down? Why on earth do I keep meeting guys this way?

More than once I’ve been thanked for just being sincere and human… yet, staring at the sms from my new friend I wondered if he knew the good he did my spirits too. No one should live from the past, yet we need to look back to appreciate our present. Often I forget the strong woman that has brought me this far. Often, I forget my own value. Perhaps I need to give myself a fairer self-evaluation. Often I forget to appreciate the fruits of the efforts I’ve already put in. I’m still not sure of my future decisions but my present goals are to appreciate all that I have already conquered.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

“A train is about to crash. A frantic virgin strips and says “Can anyone make me feel like a woman before I die?” So a man walks up to her, takes his clothes off and says: “Iron these” (Thanks Joe!)

After a tough week at work, I felt pretty tired of being the executive professional with the technical know-how and problem solving profile. Along with the weekend came the chance to be somebody else!

Walking into my kitchen late on a Friday evening in a mood to cook is something really out of the ordinary. Normally exhausted from a hard day at work, the last thing I have patience for is exploring in the kitchen, making a dish for only one person. My grocery bags contained spices and herbs that I’d never tried before on chicken. I threw out the recipe book decided to create something on my own. So wrapping around me the apron and putting on some vibey music, I decided to be a gourmet chef! At first I felt insecure about venturing but then I remembered that I’d read somewhere that one should approach life and cooking with reckless abandon. So I did. I chopped, diced, mixed, squeezed, sliced and prepared the best chicken breasts with potatoes that I’d ever made! Beat that naked chef! And they say that men make better chefs… preposterous!

Waking up early on a Saturday, I decided that I was going to hire the best maid and housekeeper that ever lived… Me!
I cleaned, I scrubbed, I washed, I shined, I organised and reorganised my little apartment until I felt that the Queen of England would be impressed with how it looked spick and span. I enjoyed singing to the end of my broomstick. Dancing with the vacuum cleaner to Mango Groove was also a showstopper and if you were lucky enough to see me cleaning my windows… you’d get a preview of the new dance I invented called… the wipe!

Determined to try out more personalities, I woke up Sunday morning as the adventurer. I decided to go hiking with my group of nature adventure seekers and joined a seven and a half hour walk where I fully enjoyed the feeling of “stalking in the bundu´s (bushes)”. Along with the rain from the night before, came the adventure of sloshing around in the mud and then washing off under the mini waterfalls naturally made from the mountain peaks. Closing my eyes, I pictured myself stranded on a desert island (something not that hard to imagine!). I needed to walk… to search… to get away from the carnivores (society) and discover new territory and paths. So I have a big imagination! Being a woman requires it! And who doesn’t feel the need to let out the inner child every now and then?
My trip was packed with adventure… I discovered new plants, got pricked on their thorns but took home a pretty flower with me. On my way I also came across chestnut trees and spent a good deal of time trying to get the chestnuts out of their orifice. My fingers were calloused from the orifices´ pricks but I managed a whole bag of chestnuts to take home with me… this is what you call working up an appetite!
Once reaching the bus, my friend and I laughed at each other’s appearance. No way would people believe that these two scruffy women with mud up to their knees worked in uniform during the week!

On the way home, we stopped at a small village celebrating their chestnut season. On a natural high after walking all those hours and having a bag of chestnuts to show for it… we felt pretty proud of ourselves and got into the festive mood. Besides trying out their chestnut delicacies, we also tried out their chestnut liqueur… and ended up singing chestnut songs all the way to the bus! Pure folklore is what we experienced and the photos of us dressed up as nuns, would fool one from believing that we actually live in the “big city”.

Arriving home, I peeled off my filthy clothes throwing them into the washing machine. I took a quick shower and then realised that I deserved a little something more. Running up the bath with salts and bubbles, I put on my favourite slow music and lit up candles around the bathroom. Sinking into the bath, I felt the stress and tension of a really long hike leave my body… I took my time shampooing and conditioning my hair, making sure every inch of my body was carefully given attention to. Only leaving the tub when I was wrinkly, I wrapped myself in my big cuddly towel and proceeded on moisturising and grooming myself. Slowly dressing into my clean pyjamas and jumping into my sweet smelling bed… I thanked God for small miracles and fell asleep humming a song from Shania Twain.

To my manager, may my true intentions dawn on you should you ever read this. As much as I dissect and criticise you, I can never express my gratitude for the opportunities you’ve given and not given me; the admiration for your leadership skills as a manager and as a man and most of all for the life’s lessons I’ve learnt from the time I’ve worked under you which otherwise might’ve been taught but not fully understood…


What It Takes To Be A Leader.

“Of course you don’t know everything… if you did, you’d be an engineer”
This is what my manager considers to be a funny joke… personally I think it’s like of those black beer adverts where the black humour is only found funny by him and his fellow engineer colleagues.

How often are you lucky enough to evaluate your boss?

I couldn’t hide the smile that stretched from one ear to the other when my manager handed me an eight-page evaluation to do exclusively on his persona. Suddenly little horns grew on the sides of my head and the word “pay back” must’ve been plastered on my expression because he nervously picked at his collar and conveniently reminded me that if ever he was fired, I would be fired too… That didn’t deter my spirits though and I left his office with more enthusiasm than I had in weeks.

REVENGE Baby, here was my chance to put down on paper exactly what I thought of him! I rubbed my hands in sheer satisfaction…
Knowing that he would see my score but not know which was mine was comforting. This meant I could judge him any way I saw fit! I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from evaluating the man that leads my team.
However, it took my much longer to fill in than I expected. To be sincere, you have to counter-weigh many circumstances and I was surprised to find that it was much harder evaluating him than I thought.

Taking the dilemma home with me for the weekend, I decided to fill it in after a hike with my group of adventure seekers. Every two weeks on a Sunday, we take out our hiking boots and go adventuring into the greens of Madeira Island. We go with a team of men who organise these hikes not as a full time job, but as something on the side simply because they love what they do. Although they have a professional licence to organise these walks, none of them had been given any formal training besides the usual safety course required by law. Whilst contemplating my manager’s evaluation, I looked unto these men for hints of leadership.

Before we left town, everyone was checked for the right gear. Ladies with open shoes were sent back or told to put on boots or sneakers. Everyone was checked for water and impermeable jackets. Flashlights were checked and we were advised to take a candy bar in case of tension drops. We were reminded to stay close to a friend and to stop whenever we wanted to look around us this to avoid getting lost or falling over a cliff whilst chasing a butterfly (you’d be surprised at the trouble tourists get themselves into!). Equipment was double-checked, roll call was taken and a couple of safety hints were repeated on the bus. Once getting off the bus, hiking sticks were given to those who wanted or needed them and we were told not to venture off without a guide. Two team leaders lead the “faster” walkers, another two walked in the middle and the last two walked behind making sure that no one was left back. I was amazed at their “silent” organisation. The group in front walked at a speedy pace to satisfy their more fit members, however whenever they felt that they were too far ahead, they would “suggest” that people picked up nuts, stop to tell a story of this and that mountain or simply crack a few jokes forcing people to slow down. The medical kit was found with the two members in the middle who at a call of a colleague could run forward or backwards to give fast medical treatment. I was told that their kit was complete with everything from an asthma pump to allergy shots and bandages. “The brooms” are the nicknames given to the last two of the team who make sure that they walk with the slower members of the group. Making sure not to hurry them but making them fast enough to keep up with the group. Without feeling any kind of pressure, a group of 56 people managed a hike that took seven and a half hours at their own desired pace.

Where did these men get their organisational skills? With no particular training, they probably have what it takes to lead a major international company… and why not? Don’t they have the basic training that it takes to lead a team?

My manager doesn’t believe in the school of life. I was once told that even the worse of engineers leave school with the capacity to resolve problems and that the school of life leaves many bums on the street…

I was told that I should never disagree with my boss… I disagree with that.

If a man is a bum on the street then it’s because he happened to flunk Life’s educational system and should he choose to take the class again and learn, then he has every chance of making it out there as any of us. Being a college or university graduate doesn’t guarantee any engineer or doctor the capacity to resolve problems… with the education they received, they are obligated to resolve problems or their certificate is worth nothing more than an A4 white piece of paper.

A manager who is wise enough to motivate the younger and more ambitious of his group will walk at their fast speed and will know when and how to slow them down without cramping their growth or damp their enthusiasm. He will always have a back up plan in the middle and the stronger elements behind the company, making sure that they push the slower or weaker elements of the group to keep up the pace. No one is left behind and the strongest leaders go in front, taking the risks of putting their “foot in the mud” before anyone else. Strong motivation is needed when leading the group uphill, not letting the elements stop and quit but moving slow enough to let even the most exhausted keep up with the team. Sharing knowledge is the only key to immortality. Jokes are just important as the recognition and a good leader knows when to reprimand the member that needed a good shove in the right direction. At some stages, some of the faster walkers slow down or fall behind… but a true leader doesn’t slow down the other, nor does he worry about those who loose motivation. He knows that they still belong to the group and that at their own pace, they will get to the same destination as everyone else.

I wished that I could share my discovery with my manager at that moment, but he has never been a great fan of walking and all the leadership skills he ever learnt came from a classroom and textbooks.

Staring at a complete evaluation of my boss, I was surprised at the knowledge I had gotten from this opportunity. I decided to evaluate, not by my standards but by his standards… in other words, not thinking as “he should’ve done better” but “did he do the best he could”. Most of all, I was surprised at the qualities that I myself had not given enough recognition to. The fact that he isn’t a judgemental leader, that he tries to be comprehensive, that he isn’t one to yell or shout and that he isn’t one to pay attention to gossip or slander: are traits that should be commended. Not once has his personal life walked into the office with him, nor has he ever sworn or disrespected his team members. This of course did not make me overlook his lack of recognition, understanding of tasks, lack of control and need of organisation. However, I evaluated him accordingly and handed in my scores with a clear conscience.

It takes a lot to be a leader, perhaps much more than most of us are willing to give of ourselves. A true leader is the one who defends and protects his team whilst teaching and learning from them. A true leader is the one who takes risks and decisions thinking not of himself, but of the good of the team.