Thursday, 28 July 2016

A year into motherhood...

Motherhood... its been a year for me now... and let me tell you, nothing, basically nothing, in my life (or your's, my dear reader, if you are a mum) will ever compare with this experience.

Honestly, I had never given this particular aspect of life much thought until a squiggly, red, wet and screaming human being slid out of my vagina. The recurring days are somewhat blurred to me because of an onslaught of new activities and skills that I was to learn.

I learned how to change diapers, learned that sleep was a luxury to some people, learned, that when a baby screams there is nothing much I can do about it and learned that patience is indeed earned.

Basically when people tell new mums how to cope, I just want to laugh out aloud... Cope... one cannot cope with the avalanche of responsibilities that swamp down upon you. What can possibly be done best is compromise... mind you that's very different from 'coping'.

However, I do not want to disappoint new mums or to-be-mums.

Its indeed a lot, a lot of pain... but every pain is doubly rewarded. Around 6-7 weeks when your baby learns to smile socially. Really, before that life is just a plethora of tears, tears and more tears, and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.

It's only when your baby starts to recognize you a bit around that 7 weeks time and starts smiling that toothless smile, probably you feel that, some of your earlier efforts are rewarded.

Anyway, coming to why I sat down to write this article is because I wanted to share some of the stuff that I learned about motherhood in the past year. This is based on my experience and solely on my experience as a mother. All experiences of course differ, but these would be the top five takeaways from my first year of motherhood. For all new mums, and for all mums-to-be, perhaps this would be helpful.

1) Do not stress about whether your child is born naturally or via procedure: Many a times, our bodies require extra help in giving birth to a life. Now, more than ever before, C-Sections are becoming extremely common. Some of the literature I read prior to giving birth to my baby scared the hell out of me about C-sections.  Really, whoever wrote those books are extremely stupid people, definitely they haven't experienced motherhood. Natural births are desirable but for some reason if one has to go through a procedure to bring the baby into this world, there is absolutely no problem. What matters and is of utmost importance here, is the health of the mother and the child. There is absolutely no, none, zero difference between a child who has had a normal birth and one who has had a birth via c- section.

2) Breast is best for babies but Formula really isn't so bad: Ok, I did breastfeed my baby for a full six months and really, it does have many advantages. For example; my baby never suffered from a cold or an ear infection in the first year of his life. For the first year in fact we did not have any 'sick' visits to his pediatrician. But do not despair if you are unable to breastfeed your baby. There are several reasons why some mums cannot breastfeed their babies and its really, really alright. Before I became a mum, I had read an overwhelming amount of literature regarding the importance of breastfeeding. And some of them honestly, made mums who did not breastfeed seem like demons. Relax... there are several very good infant formula available in the market and it is meant for those mothers who cannot breastfeed their babies.
I was formula fed from week 3 and I turned out absolutely fine. As long as the baby gets the required nutrition, its ok..,  There was a study that I came across which stated that breastfed babies have a higher intellect than formula fed ones. If the authors weren't high on dope while writing that study I would be seriously amazed. Trust me, the intellect of a child is dependent on well rounded nutrition, his/her upbringing and the skills that parents impart to the child. Its entirely unrelated to whether one was breastfed or not.
So, for any reason, if you cannot breastfeed your baby, please do not feel guilty. Your child can easily get into that Ivy League school you dreamt of. It really does not depend on whether he/she is breastfed.

3) Do not compare your child's growth: This is one instance where I stand out a clear winner. I never, for once, compared my baby to other babies of his age in the past year and going forward will never, ever do. My mother and mother-in-law, who both have had two children each, love comparing their kids and as a result started comparing their grandson with other babies in his age bracket, the day he was born.
Please do not do this, or even listen to those who do this to your baby. Remember each baby is unique, every baby will grow upto be an individual on their own. If, from the day of their birth, you start pushing them to be like others, they will forget to be themselves.
When it comes to real physical growth, ask your pediatrician for a growth chart, or better yet, download it yourself from WHO's website.
I am giving the WHO-CDC approved growth chart for boys and girls for mums who are interested :

https://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/data/who/grchrt_boys_24lw_100611.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/data/who/grchrt_girls_24lw_9210.pdf

Try to follow this growth chart to see if your baby's growth rate is normal.
One rule of thumb that most pediatricians recommend is that your baby should double his/her birth weight within six months of being born. For eg: if a baby is born 8 lbs, he/she should be 16 or closer to 16 lbs by the time of six months.

4) Postpartum depression is real; seek help: A countless number of new mums experience postpartum depression, and most ignore it as 'baby blues'. Postpartum depression is a clinical depression and is very different from baby blues. If you are a mum-to-be or a new mum experiencing any of the following, please, please consult a professional:

a) You feel like crying most of the time without a valid reason.
b) You feel like you are the worst mother on earth and you cannot provide for your baby.
c) You lose your appetite and get no joy in seeing your newborn.
d) You welcome dark thoughts about yourself and about the baby you have given birth to.
e) You feel you would have been better off if you hadn't given birth to a baby.

You can also take this quiz to find out, if you are suffering from postpartum depression:

https://womensmentalhealth.org/quiz-are-you-suffering-from-postpartum-depression/

The internet has a wealth of information on postpartum depression and it would do you and your baby a ton of good, if you are prepared. Please read about it and sensitize other family members about postpartum depression. If the mother is unwell, the one person who suffers most is your infant child.



5) Do not try to be a super-women: There was a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, on covers of major newspapers and tabloid magazines, appearing in a designer gown and looking fabulous just days after giving birth to little Prince George.

That is not a reality.

Most of us are average working, middle class women who look extremely different than Princess Catherine days after giving birth. And that is completely ok. Also when you come home after the birth of your child, make sure all hands are on deck. This is not a time to be polite and refuse help. If anyone, and I mean anyone, offers help, take it.

You have just brought a new life on the planet, trust me, half of our population cannot even conceive (the half comprising men), let alone give birth. You can and you have. So now, just relax for a few days, weeks or even months (if you are lucky). Make sure all hands are on deck to help you with the few days just after the baby's arrival. Make meals and freeze them a week or so before your expected date, so that you are relived of the burden of cooking. If you have absolutely no help, consider hiring one for a few weeks.

And this is a real world we live in. No one expects you to be going out to an Oscar evening days after giving birth. Be realistic in terms of what your body is capable of and make adjustments accordingly.

There is though, a strong connection between looking good and feeling good, but its entirely upto you whether or not you, even want to take a bath. This of course implies that cleaning the house and doing laundry is entirely out of bounds, unless, you feel an overwhelming urge to clean things. Remember parenting was not meant to be a one person job. Nature did not intend it that way. That's why it takes two people to conceive. Take the help of the other person responsible or if that person isn't around (the moron), then take help of your parents, his parents, your siblings, grandparents, bosses (yes, some do help), colleagues, friends, just about anyone who is not a certified maniac and is good enough to offer help.

So yes, motherhood is an experience, unlike any other...

Do I love it?
Yes, absolutely, hands down...

Would I do it all over again?
No... probably not in near future.

All the very best to my dear ladies who are stepping into this wonderful journey. Trust me, your life will never be the same again... and what it'll be, it'll be for the better...














Picture Courtesy:

https://www.google.com/search?q=new+mums+images&rlz=1C1SKPL_enIN442IN443&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&imgil=DxLlcCCUWdySKM%253A%253B2LBAoCUqFneqTM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.sudocrem.co.uk%25252Fantiseptic-healing-cream%25252Fblog%25252Fwhat-new-mums-say-about-losing-sleep%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=DxLlcCCUWdySKM%253A%252C2LBAoCUqFneqTM%252C_&usg=__xSciQAZ2MDeXfo97uhD6qs_ucnw%3D&ved=0ahUKEwi7vs7ZgZXOAhUGLSYKHV3hBLsQyjcINw&ei=qWCZV_vFI4bamAHdwpPYCw#imgrc=DxLlcCCUWdySKM%3A

https://www.google.com/search?q=infant+formula+images&rlz=1C1SKPL_enIN442IN443&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&imgil=sRy-UYILGzuXfM%253A%253BJfOeWj30dYby2M%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.vocativ.com%25252Funderworld%25252Fcrime%25252Fblack-market-stolen-baby-formula%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=sRy-UYILGzuXfM%253A%252CJfOeWj30dYby2M%252C_&usg=__7qUxJdvu3F8ITKAK0aImGxDvBQ8%3D&ved=0ahUKEwieptSlgpXOAhXJ8CYKHXRwCfEQyjcIRQ&ei=SWGZV97dA8nhmwH04KWIDw#imgrc=sRy-UYILGzuXfM%3A

https://www.google.com/search?q=supermom+myth&rlz=1C1SKPL_enIN442IN443&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=667&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjU1cC3gpXOAhXEdSYKHXOqCOkQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=6tXZDgP4e-hKyM%3A















Thursday, 12 March 2015

A lone woman's journey through transition...

Sophie Mahlangu, trudges up the steep slope towards the ‘Retirement Village’ in Silver Lakes Golf Estates in eastern Pretoria. It is 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning and early morning golfers are preparing for a tee off at the nearby golf course.

She spots a morning dog-walker and waves at her.

‘See you Ma’am, in the afternoon.’

‘See you, Sophie’, comes the jovial rejoinder.

Sophie, 54, is amongst the numerous domestic workers working at the Silver Lakes Golf Estates. She boasts that she is one of the oldest domestic workers in the area.‘When I first came here, there were a few houses and the rest were still being built. Some of the children I had known as infants have now grown up and are in Universities.’ Though the surroundings have changed, little has in Sophie’s life. She still works as a domestic in some of the houses in the Estate.

Sophie’s generation witnessed the transition from the undemocratic apartheid regime to the dawn of democracy in 1994. It had the unique opportunity to attest the best and the worst of two completely different governing systems. As South Africa celebrates 20 years of democratic rule, it is Sophie’s generation, which offers the best insight into what, the future holds for the nation.

Born in Belfast (officially eMakhazeni) in 1960, her mother was a domestic worker in a farming household. Her father worked at a shop in White River near Nelspruit where he had another family. The mother-daughter duo seldom traveled to Nelspruit to see her father. Sophie grew up on the farm and her childhood memories are mostly filled with vivid colors of tulips that were farmed.

‘Winters used to be very cold in Belfast but on a sunny day, you could keep seeing the flowers and forget the cold.’

Sophie studied in a school on the farm. The local pastor’s wife taught some of the worker’s children in a small hut situated near the gates of the farm. Unfortunately, when Sophie was six and in Grade 2, the school had to be shut down as the hut was needed for farm purposes and thus schooling discontinued. ‘I still remember the day clearly. Some men came in a large truck and started cleaning the room. Me and one of my friends stood by watching. No one came to stop them or anything. It was just a normal day at the farm.’

The year was 1966 and Soweto schoolchildren’s uprising was ten years away. Apartheid South Africa then, paid scant attention to the education of farm worker’s children.  

However, Sophie did not feel bad that the school shut down. In fact she felt extremely happy because now she could help her mother in the kitchen.

‘I wish I knew the importance of a good education then. But I didn’t. My mother never told me how important it was to be educated.’

The 6 year old Sophie went on to help her mother in household work for the next eight years. When the farm was sold, Sophie, then 14 and her mother went to live at her uncle’s home in Germiston.

‘Germiston was very different from the farm. It was very busy. I learnt a lot from that place.’

Unable to find work as a domestic, Sophie’s mother joined a group of women who specialized in bead making. Sophie and her cousin Rebecca, who was a year older than her, took up a job at a nearby store as the store keeper’s assistant. They were paid R 3 a week and one meal a day.

It was Sophie’s first paid work.

The store owner and his wife held classes for under educated children and adults every Saturday evening. Sophie joined the classes and it was here that she came to know, of a man, who had been locked away in a far off island near Cape Town for asking black people to stand up for their rights.
‘That period of my life was filled with anger. There were many mines situated near Germiston. Often young men from the mines would come to our shop owner and meetings would be held in his house. I came to know of the struggle that some people were waging for our rights in those meetings. The men would read aloud passages from a book. Though I did not understand much, I knew that there was something wrong going on outside.’

One of the young men from the mines was named Ephraim. He was particularly vocal in the meetings and he always urged those who had gathered around to take up education. Sophie and Rebecca both came to like the young man very much. One day, Ephraim asked Sophie to accompany him to the farmer’s market, which was held twice a month on Sundays. She felt elated that Ephraim had chosen her to accompany him. She remembers putting on her best purple dress and spending two hours trying to get dressed for the occasion.  Rebecca who was clearly jealous of her did not speak to her for two days.

Five months later on a cold Tuesday morning of July, Sophie found out that she was going to be a mother. She was nervous as well as happy and waited breathlessly for Saturday when she would see Ephraim. Saturday came but Ephraim didn’t.

She frantically tried calling the number he had given her. She says:  ‘Every day, I would spend an hour at the phone booth trying to call him. Sometimes the number kept ringing, sometimes a man would pick up and when I asked for Ephraim, he used to say, that there was no one of that name. Finally, I asked the other men in the meeting what happened to Ephraim and they said he had left the work at the mine and gone to Tanzania. They did not know why.’

Sophie was then 19 years old. Unmarried, almost illiterate and barely making ends meet; she was at a loss at how to deal with the situation. Her only friend at the time was Rebecca, her cousin.
Rebecca, now working at the SARS customs office at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg says of the period: ‘We never heard from Ephraim again. When Sophie first told me of the situation, I did not know what to do. We held hands together and did what we had been taught to do in times of distress. We prayed.’

Praying together did not help the situation much as Sophie was confronted with a huge dilemma; how to break the news to her mother and her extended family.

According to Rebecca, unwed mothers at that time were looked down upon.

‘Our family went to Church regularly. They believed in family, even if your husband went away later, it was a different thing. Sophie and I were both very scared to break this news.’
Going away from Germiston seemed to be the only option to Sophie now. She and Rebecca started looking for vacancies for domestics and household work in Pretoria when Rebecca found a cleaning job in a children’s day care in Garfonstein in Pretoria East. Rebecca secured the position of the cook for Sophie and the two cousins moved to Pretoria.

When Sophie was almost six months pregnant with her child, she and Rebecca decided to break the news to the family. Rebecca was Sophie’s biggest support during that period and has been ever since.
Says Rebecca: ‘In hindsight, I believe it was a blessing that Ephraim did not ask me out that day.’
Although angry at Sophie, her family nonetheless accepted her situation and even offered to cover the cost of medical care that was required during the period.

The year was 1985 and the political situation in South Africa was tense. Add to it a faltering economy with economic sanctions that were being imposed upon South Africa by the industrialized countries.
The social grant available to her mother was not enough to bring up a child and Sophie was barely making enough money to take care of herself. At this juncture, Rebecca again stepped in. Rebecca had meanwhile undergone her Matric Certification (Grade 10 at that time) from the University of South Africa through distance education. She heard of an opportunity for Black women at the Custom’s office at the Johannesburg International Airport (now OR Tambo International Airport) and applied. She was successful and this additional income was a huge help to Sophie.

On a hot evening of November, Sophie gave birth to a daughter and gave Rebecca the right to name her child. Rebecca named the child Precious.

Says Rebecca: ‘Whatever had happened was not the child’s fault. She was just so precious to both of us.’

For the next six years, Precious grew up in White River amidst her grandmother and her family while Sophie managed to secure accommodation with her aunt’s family in Mamelodi East.
Sophie’s tenure in Mamelodi East from 1985-1991 was filled with dread and fear. With political tension escalating to a peak, fights would break out almost every evening in their area. Neighbors were scared of each other and every day a burglary would be reported at some house or the other.

‘All neighborhoods had community patrols, but they would be of no help. Everyone was left to look after themselves. Burglary and theft would be common occurrences. People had stopped reporting these to police. I never understood why black men fought each other. Every day, while coming back from work, I would see burnt tyres, shoes, belts and ashes and I would be fearful of getting caught in one of the fights.’

With the increase in crimes and internal skirmishes, came the increase in the illegal gun trade. Almost all families bought a gun for themselves. Some spent their entire month’s income to buy a gun. However individual ownership of guns did not reduce the theft or the violence. It just seemed to increase.

Rebecca’s life meanwhile had taken a completely different turn. She had moved to Johannesburg and had settled in her new job at the Customs Office. She would sometimes visit Sophie at their aunt’s place and would mostly talk about the political changes that were coming to South Africa.

Says Sophie: ‘Rebecca would tell us of the change in government that was happening. She would say we will now be able to vote and have a government of our own. We heard about Mandela being freed from prison and wept with tears at the images on television when he walked hand-in-hand with Winnie. However, things did not change much in our neighborhood. The images on TV seem to be from another world.’

Sophie was desperate to escape her present neighborhood.

‘I had been on a look out for household domestic positions in some of the big estates that were coming up in Pretoria East. A lot of young, well-to-do couples were buying houses in guarded (sic) estates close to  the day care that I worked in.’

Sophie’s prayers for a new job was answered in 1992 when Dr. Jaco Fernandez walked in at the day care with a household domestic worker’s vacancy. Dr. Fernandez, his wife, Lorenda and their three children had arrived in South Africa a year ago from Mexico City in the United States. Dr. Fernandez was associated with Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders). Sophie moved into the domestic quarters with the family in October 1992 and this was Sophie’s first entry into the Silver Lakes neighborhood.

The Fernandez’s twins were almost Precious’s age and the doctor and his wife encouraged education. Precious had been enrolled into a government school in White River and due to the ongoing political turmoil, most of the time, the school remained closed. So Precious lagged behind in class. Sophie asked if the family would allow her daughter to stay with her in the domestic quarters. They not only agreed but encouraged Sophie to enroll Precious into Pretoria Girls High where their own daughters went. Precious was admitted to Pretoria Girls High in 1993 in Grade 1. Probably because Precious was eldest in her class and quite matured for her age, she excelled in her studies as well as games.

Sophie says: ‘I had told Precious while coming to Pretoria, never to compare herself to other girls in class. She was always to know, that I was both her mother and her father and that, though I shall try my best to take care of all her needs, she has to forego luxuries.’

Rebecca, on the other hand, fulfilled some of the little girl’s fantasies, like good clothes, hair do’s, the first walkman and even the first mobile phone.

Sophie took up two more domestic household work besides Fernandez household to supplement her income. With the introduction of government social security grants, Sophie’s financial turmoil eased a bit, but as income increased so did expenditure.

Says Sophie: ‘All I remember from that period is how both of us struggled. The only advice I remember giving Precious almost every day was to excel in studies or she would end up like us.’

Jaco and Lorenda were exceptionally good employers. Almost all costs during Precious’s school going years were borne by them. Lorenda also took it upon herself to tutor the little girl along with her own daughters. Sophie, in spite of her busy schedule, would never miss any of the parent-teacher meetings that were held in Precious’s school. She says she did not always understand what the teacher said but she never missed any because her presence made a difference to Precious.
‘Throughout her growing up years, I always made sure she knew how important education was going to be. I would not repeat the same mistake that my mother made with me.’

Precious cleared the Matric examination in 2005 with five distinctions. She secured a place at the University of Stellenbosch and is currently in her final year of Masters in Chemical Engineering.
Stellenbosch was chosen because some of Rebecca colleagues had recommended the University to her.

Says Rebecca: ‘At that time I was posted in Cape Town and my colleagues would often tell me that Stellenbosch University is the best when it comes to engineering. I told Precious to try for Stellenbosch since she was in Grade 9. I wanted her to go the best school since we in our childhood had missed out on it. Precious had both the intellect and the perseverance, that’s why I always pushed her.’

2004 was indeed a remarkable year for Sophie. Besides Precious going to college, Jaco and Lorenda bought a small apartment for Sophie to stay in the nearby Newmark Estate.

Says Jaco: ‘It was all we could do to say thanks to Sophie. In all her years of employment, Sophie never asked anything for herself. There are so many domestics who keep asking for food, money, clothes, but Sophie never asked for anything. She would silently carry out whatever we wished her to do.’

Lorenda passed away last year from a prolonged illness. During her last year of illness, Sophie left all the other households she was working in to be at Lorenda’s side. Jaco’s eldest daughter Alexis says: ‘Sophie was a nurse-cum-cook-cum domestic-cum gardener all at the same time. We sisters, all of us live abroad. It was not easy for us to take care of mum and dad could not do it all himself. We needed Sophie and fortunately Sophie was always there for us.’

After his wife’s death, Jaco sold his house in Silver Lakes and moved to the ‘Retirement Village’ where Sophie was going to work, the morning I caught up with her.

She bid me farewell in front of House no. 19’s door and said: ‘I will tell everything I remember. Why don’t you meet me today afternoon at my place? However, most of the difficult things, I am trying to forget. You know, I feel tired thinking about my past. I want to forget it. Life is better now, this is how I wish it to be.’


Thursday, 28 August 2014

How digital journalism changes story telling

Picture courtesy: www.fundintranslation.berkely.edu
On Tuesday 26 August, 2014, Stats SA released the GDP figures of the second quarter of 2014. The figures showed that South Africa has managed to stave off a recession by posting a modest growth of 0.6 per cent.

The following multi media platforms may be used to tell the story.




Picture Courtesy: www.theundercovercircuit.com
Social Media Platforms:
  • Google Plus Hangout: G+ Hangout is a very useful tool to reach out to the readers. If I was reporting on the GDP news, I would have held G+ hangout with my readers and my newspaper's business/ economic editor and invited industry experts one or two days before the publication of the news. This would have generated interest among readers about the expected figures. In the environment of 24X7 news, it is extremely important to create a 'buzz' around the news one is reporting on so that one can draw the readers in.
  • Twitter: News story, sensational or otherwise is now mostly 'broken' on Twitter. I would have posted the news on Twitter as soon as Stats SA made the figures public. I would have also twitted on subsequent tweets the important numbers and facts such as the key contributors to the growth and the key sectors which pulled the growth down. Twitter serves as the most useful platform for making the news reach a large audience through the means of a "#". In addition to my followers getting my tweets, there is a high chance of the tweets being re-tweeted or being marked as favorite. 
  • News Organizations's Website: After Twitter, the second most important place to report the news is of course, the news organization's website. This platform would give the journalist an opportunity to report on the story behind the numbers and analyse the 'how' and the 'why'. It also gives the reader a chance to disseminate the news on various other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and on Google Plus and of course  to be emailed to the reader's friends. The reader also gets an opportunity to comment on the news item. 
  • News Organisation's Blog: Blogging is a very useful platform to get the reader's attention and engage him/her with the news story. For the particular GDP story, an economist or an industry spokesperson could be invited to write on the blog. Blogs are usually for serious readers who are interested in analyzing the news. Therefore it would be better if an economic analyst or the Treasury spokesperson can write the blog about the consequences of such a slow growth rate and how it would affect the economy. Also a mining industry expert could be invited to write upon what impact does the negative growth rate have on the industry  
  • Reddit.com: Reddit.com is an amazing site to put the news across. Of course, a news like SA's GDP growth would not necessarily interest readers, because a lot of readers might not be from South Africa. To make the news more interesting and relevant to readers, I would link news articles on a particular sector such as mining and show how mining in SA reflected a negative growth rate. I could also post a series of articles from my organization's website about the trends of the past quarter's GDP figures and analyse what it means for the economy.
  • Storify: Storify lets the user create stories or timelines using social media platforms. I would Storify the above news with the various tweets that my business/economic editors post and also take relevant conversation occurring on media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn on the topic and Storify them.
  • LinkedIn: Though this platforms is mostly used to connect professionally, news like the GDP growth should definitely be on LinkedIn. I can share the link from my website onto LinkedIn and through LinkedIn to the community pages that LinkedIn hosts. LinkedIn is frequented by more serious visitors who are willing to read on subjects such as GDP growth rate.
  • Web Polls: Though not a social media platform, polls are a very good tool to gain an insight into the readers. For this story, I could have a poll asking the readers to express their view on a certain sector of the economy or on the growth figures. Online polling sites such SurveyMonkey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/?ut_source=header_) to create questions and take surveys on the website or blog. Readers will have added initiative to read the article and respond.

Picture courtesy: www.socialmediaexaminer.com
Data Journalism and Visual Graphics:

Economic/ business news can be best told through visual graphics and through the use of pie charts and bar diagrams. Visual representation should be used to simplify the numbers and figures that many readers find daunting and most of them, therefore avoid news such as the one above. In an article from the Columbia Journalism School, the author points to Washington Post's successful digital initiative "Wonkblog" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/) as an example to visually represent numbers.
I would use an interactive visualization and exploration tool like Gephi to put across some of the important figures such as the positive growth by some sectors and why did these sectors grow. I could actually represent the GDP growth figures completely through graphics and share it on my website. It would help draw readers in and help them easily understand about the state of the economy.

Multimedia: 

The use of multimedia such as videos would not really help this story. A way of incorporating videos in the story would be to focus on particular sectors of the economy to show how and why it fared, as it did. Or one can interview industry experts or economists to show how the figures would impact the economy. I feel, the Google hangout mentioned above would actually help the reader more than just videos of comments from industry experts or economists.




Friday, 8 August 2014

Keys to a successful marriage (as learning from my parents)...

Tomorrow is 9 August.

No, it is not my birthday or any day of any value to humanity whatsoever.

But the day has a special significance for me.

On this day, in the year 1978, my parents were tied in holy matrimony.

This might come as a surprise to my non-Indian readers but my parents never went through any courtship process... As far as my knowledge goes my parents had an 'arranged marriage' as in a marriage arranged by the families of the prospective bride and groom.... and they met only once before they actually got married!!!! On the said day my father had gone with his family members to my mother's house to see his 'future wife'. And the second 'date' they had was when they got married on 9 August, 1978.

Since then they have been together for 35 years and will be entering their 36th year of married lives tomorrow. I myself have been married for a little over two years and needless to say I or rather we are  still learning...

For me, my parents represent a successfully stable relationship. A relationship, based on ruthless honesty, both about themselves and about their partners, tireless commitment to the cause of one's family and an absolute sacrifice (especially on my mother's end) of individual ambitions.

They got married in 1978... a whole lot of things were done differently then.... for e.g. my parents had a ten year old age divide between them... my father is ten years older than my mum. I don't think I could have married a man even five years senior to me... maybe that's one of the reasons they have stayed together for so long... a whole lot of inane research shows that women's emotional ability to grow is twice that of a man... I do not know how credible the research is... but if it is true, then it makes perfect sense why husbands have to be at least a decade older than their wives. So what my mum thought when she was 35 five, my father got up to that level when was 45...!!!! It's incredibly difficult to imagine but probably this worked for them..... I also realize why Rahul (my husband) is such a kid some times and why my brother still has a 12 year old outlook towards relationships... More to girl power...!!!! yeah...

Also my mum absolutely and intentionally sacrificed all her individual ambitions to take care of the family. Though I have yet to meet a more intelligent and independent woman than my mum... and I am not saying this because she is my mother but because I really haven't met anyone as intelligent as her... it strikes me to be astounding. The values she imbibed me and my brother with have saved us from many a disaster...how could someone like her completely devote herself to house-wifely duties, immerse herself in the everyday humdrum of cooking, cleaning, washing, chopping and so on and so forth and still retain a sharp mind that even at this age, is capable of giving deeply insightful solutions to both our professional and personal troubles.

In the individualistic age that we live in... can women really survive by putting an hold on their ambitions and making their family the focal point in their lives? On the heels of that question, comes another one... An absence of any individual ambition on a woman's part but to raise a successful family, is it a highly selfless trait or an acceptance of personal inability to achieve anything outside the rituals of a domestic household?

I really do not know, but this has actually been a key reason why my parents could have a stable relationship. My mum was always at our beck and call while my father was away in office and sometimes on official duty all over India. In my school going years, till I left home for college and my brother even now, when he has grown up to be a hot shot lawyer, we always came back home to find our Ma waiting for us, ready to lend a patient ear or a plate of hot home made food.

And what about my father... My father is a self made man. An incredibly intelligent, hardworking and honest to boot kind of person... Being a retired defense estates officer, he counts punctuality to be an essential human trait... He was a bit more lenient to our childish misdeeds than my mum.... he did and still does like poetry and among my parents he was a better dreamer than my mum was (is)...  My father, I do not recall ever spent a cent of his earnings on himself nor did he demand any special treatment for being the sole breadwinner in our family and for working exceptionally hard to meet his children's needs, dreams and aspirations.

My father is the philosopher in the family, a position now taken by my brother... he always told us and still tells us, 'don't fill up your basket of dreams with the small ones otherwise you would not have place for the bigger ones." He lives by the phrase 'simple life, great thoughts.' I do not know whether he took up this philosophy after becoming a family man or before it... but it really worked for us.

I have had the fortune of spending a part of my adult life with them and some (well most) of the things you miss out as a child especially in grave matters such as relationship, you start noticing when you are an adult and you start appreciating only when you are yourself married.

A successful relationship can only be forged if two people in that relationship is committed to doing their bit towards it. I don't believe that any 'marriage' can be devoid of arguments, squabbles and debate, especially because I have seen my parents argue a lot... about not so cause worthy issues. Even I and Rahul quarrel on issues which are mostly worthless at best. But I guess that forms a part of married life...

For me, my parents represent a relationship that should be aspired to. It is not the one that romantic books talk about nor what glossy lifestyle magazines preach, but a relationship that works: a relationship between two individuals grounded in strong values about respect, honesty and  commitment to each other and to the the family they have.

Love you Ma, Baba... you guys rock...!!!! :) :)






 


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

What Mandela's struggle meant to me...

Nine months ago, I was a stranger to this land, and as a stranger does so often, I only knew Nelson Mandela as a great leader and as a great Gandhian who fought against an unjust system and won after a long, hard struggle... How long or how hard the struggle was, eluded me... now nine months living in South Africa and having studied the history of the land, having talked to many of the people who inhabit this land and after visits to certain historical landmarks, I can safely say, that Nelson Mandela was not only a leader of South Africa but of all the people who seem to have lost hope.

Last Thursday night when he breathed his last, South Africa not only lost it's father, but the world lost a great humanist. It's only fitting that his Memorial Service is being held today, the 10th of December, which also happens to be the International Human Rights Day... Nothing could have fitted the occasion more than  the ode being paid to this great leader.

Since the passing away of Madiba (as he was affectionately called here) the South African weather also seem to be mournful. The cheerful and sunny weather has given way to a rainy, gloomy and cloudy weather, though according to the local lore, it is a good sign. It means that God is now ready to accept a great soul into his kingdom and the rains are his symbol for the said event.

Last Friday, when most South Africans woke up to the historic news of Madiba's passing away, I and my husband Rahul went to have coffee at a nearby coffee house... all around me were the images of the great man and news were flying thick and fast about the days to come... Beside us, there were these two white gentlemen who were equally absorbed in the news when it suddenly occurred to me that if it was not for Nelson Mandela, I and Rahul would have never been able to sit so freely beside those two white men... we would have our separate enclosure and maybe we would have been sitting outside in the rain...

What Mandela taught us most importantly is that before any other considerations, we are all human beings, not a whole lot of Indians of my generation will understand it but if I told you that even nineteen years ago, I would be put be put in Jail for writing this blogpost, just because of my color, you would understand, what I mean, when I say, Nelson Mandela fought not only for South Africa, but also for you and me...and for the hope we all have...


Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Kruger-o-mania" : Part 2: The Elephant, The Lioness and the Road to Satara...

And my adventures in the wild continues:

Early in the morning, we left the Skukuza Camp for the Satara camp. All those reading this post for the first time, let me state briefly, that our first camp in Kruger National Park was Skukuza and that we had an amazing day out there.

So our next destination being around 90 km away and with a little help from our GPS, we set off to the next phrase of our ongoing adventure. My husband being a wildlife enthusiast, took the wheels, while being the camera pro, I was in charge of capturing the wildlife in the lenses.

There are two types of roads in the Kruger National Park. One is the paved and metaled road where the speed limit is 50 km/hour and the other is the unpaved and gravel roads where the speed limit is 40 km/hour. Now one's best chance to see the game is through the unpaved road which are easily distinguishable from the paved roads. The unpaved roads will be shown on one's GPS as "S" Roads, while the paved ones will be denominated by the letter "H". Now at this juncture, I would like to point out that, buying a road map of Kruger is a beautiful idea. It is quite inexpensive and would be your best companion while you are busy navigating the roads or watching the animals in their most natural behavior, also it is readily available in any of the numerous curio shops in all the camps.

Now to travel on the unpaved road, it is wise to have a four wheel drive (4WD) but our experience shows that even the unpaved roads are excellent and if the weather is compatible, one can easily take their two wheel drives deep into the forest. This is what we did, since we had a two wheel drive. We took three or four secondary (unpaved) roads and it is on these roads that we were able to see most of the wild animals in their most natural behaviors.

Our first sighting was a buffalo, resting in the mud, deep into the forest. It was our first sighting of the buffalo, an animal twice the size of lion and thrice more ferocious and territorial. This was the third of the Big five, that we were fortunate enough to see, having seen the Rhino and the Elephant both the previous evening at Skukuza Sunset Drive. Then we drove on only to stop to give a lone elephant it's way across the dirt tract. It was crossing onto the other side of the road in search of fresh leaves and barks. The Elephant was quite oblivious to our car and we stood silently watching it in all it's magnificence.

One of the golden rule of seeking game in the park is being observant and quiet. If you spot one animal, be patient, soon you will find tens of similar game around, hiding in bushes. So while the Elephant crossed the road and vanished into the other side of the bush, we waited silently, only to discover an entire herd hiding into the forest and munching on leaves and barks of trees. That's the beauty of Kruger. The fun part is not in just seeing the animals. That, one can easily see in a caged zoo. The actual part where the excitement kicks in, is to silently seek the animals, camouflaged in their surroundings in their most natural behavior.

For example, it is extremely interesting to see how elephants behave in a herd. It is to be noted that a herd of elephants consists only of female elephants and babies of both genders and only those male elephants who have not yet reached puberty. As soon as a male elephant reaches adolescence, it is left alone by the herd, to seek a mate and also to seek it's own livelihood. The largest female elephant (and almost always the eldest one) becomes the matriarch and she is primarily responsible for the herd's safety.

A while down the road (this time, the main, paved road), we came across a herd of elephants intent on crossing the road to the other side. This time, when our car approached, the other members of the herd had already crossed over and the sole elephant was observing the traffic on the both ends of the road, waiting for the right time to cross. Now when the elephants cross, the first adult elephant

will keep a watch on the other side of the road, one adult will be responsible for each of member crossing the road safely, and the last adult elephant will remain on the other side of the road, till all the other members have safely crossed. This represents highly intelligent thinking and management skills. In fact after seeing the elephants of Kruger, I am of the opinion, that not lions but elephants should have been the "king of the jungle". They are one of the most civilized, intelligent and sophisticated of all the animals that I saw. So, this elephant which was standing on the other side, watched for a long while, until all the cars came to a halt, and observing keenly that no immediate danger in the form of steel vehicles are approaching, it first folded it's trunk on it's own tusk, so as not to put it into immediate danger and slowly crossed the road. She was barely seven feet away from my car, and I got an excellent opportunity to capture her in my lens.

Just as the herd of elephants receded onto the other side of the forest, a lady driving another jeep which had also stopped to give way to the elephants, informed us that some two kilometers up the road, a lioness and her cub were resting under a shady tree. We were thrilled and my husband  put the accelerators in order to see the lioness. But in Kruger, it's not at all possible to drive without stopping to gaze at the sheer number of animals and plants. So what was supposed to be a mere hour's journey turned out to be two and a half hours long. We stopped by to see a family of giraffes, a huge group of impalas, a baboon, quite intent on photographing itself, some wild zebras also extremely keen to get photographed, some amazingly colorful birds, a family of blue wildebeests... now here is an interesting fact about wildebeests...the females again consist of the herd, as soon as the male wildebeest reach their maturity, they detach themselves from the herd and roam around scanning for females to mate, unfortunately they roam around in the same territory as lions do and therefore are most easily preyed...





Then we traveled on to find a long queue of cars lined up on one side of the road... we eagerly joined the queue to find the object of attraction, the lioness and her cub resting under a shade of a big tree... it was around twenty-twenty five feet from us... one car moved out of the queue heading onto it's way and we immediately filled up the vacant spot... to get a good look at the awesome sight. I have never in my life thought I would see a wild lioness with her cub sitting this close to us and that too in broad afternoon light... I wonder how many people in my family or friends circle have had this awesome opportunity. I thank God for making me see this beautiful sight. There was a car behind us making a movie on the lioness. They had their camera on a tripod and intent on filming the entire scenery.

We waited and observed the lioness and her cub for around an hour. I have never seen an animal more gorgeous and stately than this. She probably just had her meal/lunch and was quietly lying under the tree. I believe she was also quite aware of all the cars and the interest being taken in her and her cub, and she was so uninterested, as if this was a daily occurrence. There were a few other animals also in the vicinity, but no one was coming quite close to the duo. I later heard from our Guide, that if a lion had, had her feed, she would not disturb any animal or even look for hunt till again she's hungry. Our guide told us that it is a common sight in Kruger to have a pride of  lions gathered around a waterhole and a family of impalas and baboons roaming around them quite freely unafraid... Unfortunately we weren't able to see the sight...

Our sighting over, we traveled onto the Satara camp to begin our next phrase of adventure... Life didn't get any better than this...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

"Kruger-o-mania"... My adventures in the wild... Part 1

I recently visited the Kruger National Park here in South Africa... Oh my god, it was an awesome, awesome adventure. Not being a wildlife fan myself, even I found myself engrossed in seeking game (as they call the animals in Kruger).

The basic story behind writing this article is if anyone wants to travel to Kruger, then they can refer to this blog post for some basic information. However all the important information one needs is available in the SANParks site : http://www.sanparks.org/

This is the site one can use for all information.

The first thing one needs to know before visiting Kruger is planning the trip. It is very important to plan one's trip beforehand. If one has planned one's trip, everything will go perfectly.

The first thing one needs to book is the accommodation. There are 2.2 million visitors to Kruger National Park each year, so it's sufficient to say, that accommodations are hard to come by. Kruger National Park has eight rest camps : Berg-en-dal, Crocodile Bridge, Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Orpen, Satara, Olifants, Letaba, Mopani, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria. Punda Maria is the northernmost camp of KNP and falls in Zimbabwe. One needs a visa to visit this camp. These camps are like small towns. The camps that we stayed in had restaurants, take away stores, medicinal facilities and Skukuza also has a Post Office!!

In addition to these main rest camps, one can also stay in one of the satellite camps known as bushveld camps. Bushveld camps are a recommended option if one wants more of a wilderness experience than are possible at the rest camps, and these are equipped for self catering too.

At the Rest Camps, one has a choice of various types of accommodations. One can choose to stay in a safari tent (we stayed in one), a bungalow, a guest cottage (these two options are luxurious accommodations and can fit upto 10 people). One also has the option of camping and there are designated space for camps. Skukuza is the headquarters of the Kruger National Park and as such is the busiest and the largest camp of all.

The cost of all types of accommodations can be known from the San parks site that is given above. All the accommodations need to be booked in advance as one has to show the reservation confirmation at the respective gates.

We entered the Paul Kruger Gate as our first camp was Skukuza. Here, we stayed in a safari camp that was equipped with electricity, had a fan, fridge, Braai facilities, beds and linen were provided which I have to say were new and met our expectations. There are glasses and a jug also present in the tent, but the tent does not have any power point, so if one is hoping to charge one's cellphone or camera batteries, one will be disappointed. The kitchen and the ablution facilities were common but were very clean, hygienic and were well provided for.


The safari tent can house two, four or six people. The minimum number of people, one safari tent can accommodate is known as the base rate. For example, if your group has five people, then you can book a tent for four and take one bed extra. So the base rate you'll be paying is for four people, and you will need to pay for the extra bed that has been provided for. The tent for four people costs around R 700.00

Needless to say, staying in the safari camp is an adventure in itself. It's best if one is lucky enough to grab a tent near the perimeter as all wild animals like hyenas and jackals come upto the perimeter at night.

There are different ways to see the game in KNP. The most recommended are the guided drives and walks that are available in all the camps. The drives are done in open jeeps and are driven by experienced rangers who communicate with each other via radio. So the best chance of seeing game are these drives. There are three types of guided drives available: Sunrise Drive, Sunset Drive and Night Drives. All the big cats including the lions, leopards, cheetahs etc are nocturnal creatures and are most active during night and during dusk and dawn. The drivers, as mentioned above are experienced rangers and therefore provide an endless and precious information about wildlife, trees and bird species of the Kruger National Park. It is indeed extremely informative and enjoyable to listen to their running commentary while seeking hidden animals.

At the Skukuza camp, we took a Sunset Drive which costs around R 230 per person. The Sunset Drives are for three hours duration and starts at 4:30 pm and lasts till about 8 pm. One has to report at least half an hour earlier from the departure time. We were fortunate enough to see many species of birds, trees, and insects. We also saw elephants, giraffes, rhinos, probably a thousand impalas and one rare specie of baboon... it was breathtaking... as the sun sunk down the horizon, while returning, we suddenly heard a terrible noise and I flashed the flash light provided in the jeep towards the noise only to find out two adult elephants fighting each other. It was incredible. As soon as the lights shone in their eyes, they moved away from the light and receded deeper into the jungle. As the flash light was not falling directly onto their eyes, we could see them fighting each other. It looked quite ferocious but our guide explained that these two elephants were just playing with each other. I wonder what would it have been like when they seriously fought each other. Supposedly it is an extremely rare sighting.

There was one time during the drive, when the jeep stopped completely, the driver cut the engine and told us to switch off all the flash lights. The Guide asked us just to be patient and listen to the sounds of the forests. It was one of those moments, when one realizes how insignificant one is as there are so many other sounds hidden and they come alive only when we try to listen carefully. It was one of the awe-inspiring moment in my life.

Fortunately the night we had taken the drive in Skukuza was a moonlit night and the forest looked beautiful bathed in the silvery light of the moon. It was one of those moments when you really don't want the drive to end but unfortunately it does.

We came back to the Camp after an incredible three hour drive with hunger in our bellies and awe in our minds. I remember, the only discussion at the dinner table that night was about wildlife and the forest. We went to sleep with the sounds of the forest filling up our hearts and making us realize that beyond our ordinary existence lay an extraordinary world.