Friday, January 24, 2014

A critical look at Bonnie Henna's Eyebags & Dimples -- by Refilwe Thobega

(published by Jacana Media)

When Kgomotso Moncho recommends that I read a certain book, I don’t hesitate.
Why?  Apart from being a great friend:
1. She an avid reader.
2. She’s worked as an arts writer of a national newspaper for a long time and continues to write for great magazines.
3. I share with her, and often trust her artistic taste, especially in books, music and film.

So Motso lent me Bonnie Henna’s Eyebags & Dimples at Shelley Beach in Durban a while ago. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year. It was amazing to see a familiar face in a faraway place. She’s happier and lovelier than ever. Durban is definitely treating her very well, but I told her that the bright city lights and the loud noise of Jozi are calling her again. It’s been a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of Egoli but it’s time we both come back “home” – she knows what I’m talking about.

Eyebags & Dimples is Bonnie Henna’s autobiography. She needs no introduction. She is a renowned South African actress and has been in a number of international films including Drum, Blinded Angels, Catch a Fire and Invictus.

I conclude. Bonnie is a good writer. She paints very vivid images with words. As a fellow reader and friend, Brenda da Silva, told me: this book's an easy read. It took me one day to complete, a huge part of that reason being that I could not put it down. Bonnie finished every chapter so strongly that you can’t wait to jump onto the next one. 

Bonnie’s mother was a pained and emotionally wounded woman. Bonnie says she used to beat, shout at her, and call her insulting names at the most innocent things. She says: “I just wanted her to love me, to see me, to be glad that I existed. I craved her affection and her approval, but I had to contend myself with beatings – they were her only real engagement with me”.

But she also reveals all sides of her mother. Who also proved to be a very strong, sophisticated and quite smart woman. She didn’t hate her children; she was just battling with her own issues and happened to take out her internal turmoil on her kids. If she didn’t want the best for her kids she would not have taken Bonnie to her first audition and supported the process that led to her stardom.

Whether you like her or not, know her or not, when walking in her shoes – by reading this book – you’ll laugh and cry with Bonnie. She’s had one hell of a ride.
Regarding marriage, she says: “marriage was never simple or easy, I came to understand, but it was also a blessing, and a continuous course in problem-solving. Two people unite at an altar and vow to do life together, but when the celebrations end, I discovered, that the real work begins. For we bring to marriage our childhoods and all our beliefs and opinions about how life should be. Nobody had prepared me for this. But then building a 

harmonious life with someone you haven’t lived with for most of your life is like starting from scratch; no one can ever prepare you for such a challenge.”

She does not mince her words. She speaks her mind.
About fans, back in the day, she says: “I didn’t mind fans at a distance, but they got under my skin at times. Someone always seemed to ask an inappropriate question or make a demeaning remark. ‘You are way shorter than I thought’. ‘Have you gained weight?’ This tendency was most prevalent among black people, who seemed completely comfortable saying things only the closest of friends and family should be allowed to say; they took unearned privileges to voice whatever they liked.” She said this pressed her buttons and annoyed her more than it should have.

Younger Bonnie reminds me of Rihanna somehow, actually. Misunderstood. Good girl gone bad. And she explains why she was always perceived to be “aloof” and a drama queen.
Mr and Mrs Henna. 
She says that: “For a long time I felt misunderstood by the world. Now I realise that I was the one who misunderstood me. I’ve had to forgive myself for being hard on myself and others. I had misguided and unreasonable expectations, and wondered around aimlessly seeking fulfillment in all the wrong places.”

She lets the reader in some of the most private affairs of her live. It is revealed for the first time that Bonnie had a relationship with Vusi Twala, son of the great Shado Twala. She also tells that for a long time she suffered from and was diagnosed with depression. One of her friends said, in comforting her: “We are all struggling with something.”
I agree. Hers just happened to be depression (which falls under emotional problems and mental conditions). Some people are struggling with addictions, different illnesses – some chronic and some incurable.

(My mother always laughs when I say I take comfort in that I know and understand my “issue”, some people suffer from undiagnosed mental and personality disorders. They are facing monsters that they don’t even know exist.)

Moving right along …
If you know anything about life, you’ll know one thing for sure: Things don’t always go as planned. Things have their own way of revealing themselves. It was the same for Bonnie. She says: “I had traveled all the way to California to discover who my enemy was. I had fled to pursue a dream, and in turn it had pursued me. All that took place in LA had needed to happen that way. If God had tried to tell me this back at home I would not have listened. I had needed the pain, the desperation, the hunger to force me to pay attention. By stepping into the fire, everything that wasn’t real had been burnt away, exposing what it was that I needed to start dealing with.

Bonnie says she learned, on the TV show Survivor, where she was invited to be a celebrity participant and got eliminated at Top Three, to appreciate the small things, to live on very little and to appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of human beings.  

Bonnie on TV show Survivor.
South African poet, Lebo Mashile sings nothing but praise for Bonnie’s book. She says: “From child star to mother and wife. From abuse to transcendence. From public figure to piercing private pain. This book is a portrait of a woman healing by owning every part of who she is. Bonnie’s bravery and vulnerability exemplify the kind of new personal narratives that will inspire the women of South Africa to self-reflect, reclaim and change the emotional status-quo of our lives as well as that of our society.”
I loved that she told her story boldly from her point of view, but also revealing all sides of it, something that it quite rare in memoirs.

It’a great book. A great read. I loved it. Check it out. 

Even her face just screams: Star! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

No baby drama yet! Whose business is it anyway?

Women are expected to have, at least, one child. On top of that, “society” and other health factors put an age limit to it.

Times are changing. More and more women are deciding to “wait”, irrespective of the ticking clock, until they feel that the time is right.

Refilwe Thobega catches up with four women, who want to be ready before bringing a human being to the world. These ladies represent many others who do not feel pressured into having babies by their peers, families or societies at large.

*Mmapaseka Moseki (28) is a freelance journalist. After staying in Gauteng for more than eight years, early last year she has relocated to Port Shepstone with her fiancé.

“He got a job there, and after working for a major newspaper as an arts writer for almost eight years I decided to resign and go with my man. I craved change. I needed a new start, and relocating seemed like a great one.”

Mmapaseka’s fiancĂ©, a mechanical engineer, has just paid “lobola”. They are celebrating six years together in February 2014. 

At 28, I still feel I'm not ready

“I like kids, but sometimes I am scared of them because I have had incidents where they cried when I held them, making me feel like I did something wrong.

“My sister had her only son at 13, so from the age of six years I was aware of pregnancy and the idea that you have to be ready to have a child.
By my teens, my goal was not to fall pregnant, it was almost like a phobia. And at 28, I still feel I'm not ready,” she says.

Mmapaseka says her husband has a child from a previous relationship. “I dream of giving him a boy. And I'm a little curious about the kind of mother I would make. I'm dealing with my own demons like getting in touch with my emotions (Aquarians suffer from being aloof), so things like that make me wonder if I would make a good mother.”

We will do it at our own pace
As newlyweds, people in their lives expect them to have a baby soon, if they are not already planning to have one already.

“My husband and I have just started living together, before this; we were in a long-distance relationship. We still have to know each other more before we bring a child into this world. We will do it at our own pace.

Whose baby is it anyway?

Meet Faith Modise (34) of Greenstone, Johannesburg. She is a content coordinator for an e-learning company. She says that a baby is the last thing on her mind. “I have been single for a year now,” she says.

I haven’t found the right man as yet
Despite not having them, Faith says the loves kids. “Actually, I adore kids. I simply don’t have them because I haven’t found the right man as yet who has the same morals and values.”

Society expects one to have at least one child, if not two, at age 34. If not, one is sure to expect some remarks, comments and opinions. Most of them not so pleasant. Faith experiences that. “Yes, of course people talk, but it doesn’t bother me because I decide what I want to do with my life,” she says.

According to Faith, there shouldn’t be single mothers “because kids are meant for married couples”. However, she has great “respect for single mothers who share responsibilities of being a father and a mother to their kids and doing the best they can to provide for them.”  

If he's gonna be your baby daddy, chose him wisely.

I am awaiting my time

Faith has a hectic lifestyle which includes being a part-time gym instructor. She also dances for the Blue Bulls Rugby Team. “I am a health freak who doesn’t believe that the clock ticks for anyone to have babies,” She says.

She has recently appeared on the Big Brother Stargame Reality TV Show training the housemates three times a week. “And that was the best experience of my life. “I am the oldest Bulls Babe and am very proud of myself for pulling this physique because this look got a lot of people fooled.”

It is clear for Faith, society, family and friends and their expectations can wait.

The word of God says ‘wait upon the Lord’. We do not live for ourselves, our paths are not the same, being overtaken by your peers whether career, marriage or children shouldn’t matter because God did not mean for us to have the same things at the same time. I am awaiting my time and only God will decide. In the meantime, I am living comfortably and I am trusting on Him to turn His clock,” she concludes.

Faith Modise, Blue Bull Babe
Mmakgang Enele, at 40, has no kids. And she is happy with that. And it was her choice. 

She has a degree in Environmental Science and working as a Deputy Director for Institutional Establishment. Her work involves engaging with different sectors on water-related matters and supporting water users for the establishment of Water Management Institutions.

Kids are such a bunch of joy

Mmakgang, who has just relocated from Gauteng to the Western Cape, has been together with her partner for the past five years.  “I don't think I would still be dating him if there were some abnormalities. The one thing I like about him is that he lets me be who I want to be and he understands my character,” she’s pleased to say.

“I am from a big family of six (four girls and two boys). All my siblings have got kids and I love them to bits. Kids are such a bunch of joy and I love them,” she says.

Then how come she does not have kids of her own?

“I grew up in a stable environment with both parents supporting each other in raising us. I believe raising a child alone is a big challenge and wouldn't want to see myself in that situation. I told myself from a very young age that my parents will be my role models as far as family planning is concerned. It only makes sense to me to have a child when I am married. I do not see myself having a child without a supporting structure. A supporting structure is not only about money, the day-to-day responsibilities of raising a kid also play an important role,” she says.

Isn't he lovely?

I stand by my decision

Mmakgang says that she had “planned” to have kids before she turned 40  ̶  only if she was married. She then decided that if she turned 40 and still not be married, she would not like to go through the process of child bearing at that age.

“The man who will marry me should understand that our marriage is for companionship. To have someone to love, grow old with and enjoy life. I am very content with my decision and still stand by it. I however, applaud single parents; there are kids with great mothers out there,” she said.

And as for people who ask her why she does not have kids, Mmakgang says that “I always show them my ring finger. It may sound silly but that's how I respond. They say ‘but you are not growing any younger’ and my response will be, ‘I am aware’.
I am surrounded by so many kids, being from family or friends, and I consider them my own and love them that much.

Total respect for all the single mothers keeping it together. 
I am not going to adopt and be a single parent either

Mmakgang says she does not necessarily experience pressure from family, only friends: “It is not offending statements that I get from my friends but continuous reminders that ‘you don't have a child!’ For example, when I always have money to pamper myself (being it on holidays or material things) I would be told that no wonder I can afford all that, it’s because I don’t have children.  Of course I do not have such responsibilities. It is great that I don't have to budget for school fees.”

She says that she has actually thought about adoption. “But I am not going to adopt and be a single parent either. My boyfriend will support me on any decision I make in that regard. He promised that he will definitely play a role if I decide to adopt.

Thirty-year-old *Jenny du Plessis, a graphic designer, is happily married to the man of her dreams. They have been together for eight years. She is happily – not a mother.

She and her husband have lived in Gauteng all their lives then moved to Knysna last year. “We wanted to get away from the busy lifestyle and learn to relax and enjoy life,” she says.

But just not now for us

 “I do not have kids and do not want to have them right now. I think they are amazing, beautiful and fun. But just not now for us. I have a busy life, and want to spend some time on myself to figure out who I am. I do not think this is selfish, I think it would be selfish of me to have kids and not really want them. I feel that I am not yet ready for children, and I want to establish myself first.”

Jenny says that she respects single mothers. “They are strong and have immense courage.” But she has no mercy for young girls who become parents too soon. “They are irresponsible. No schoolgirl can look after a child,” she concludes.

Most women begin to get worried when they hit or approach 30, but some, such as these four, know that nothing is random – everything happens at the right time. 

Your time is not my time.
However, there are risks involved in having babies when the mother is above 35. According to the Mayo clinic, it might take longer to get pregnant. Women are born with a limited number of eggs. As you reach your early 30s, your eggs might decline in quality. An older woman's eggs also aren't fertilized as easily as a younger woman's.

Women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs only during pregnancy, and it's more common as women get older. Chances of develop high blood pressure during pregnancy are also high.

Older mothers have a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications that might lead to a C-section delivery. Babies born to older mothers have a higher risk of certain chromosome problems, such as Down syndrome, and the risk of miscarriage also increases as you get older. But despite the odds, many women are delaying pregnancy well into their 30s and beyond, and delivering healthy babies.

In December 2013, 39-year-old Luyanda Buseka of Mpumalanga gave birth to healthy twins, a girl and a boy, Asanda and Sisanda, weighing 2.5kg 2.6kg, respectively. “Where are all those people and doctors who said it was too late for me to have children? I think the timing is perfectly perfect for me. Everything is happening as God intended it to. I would not have wanted it in any other way. I am blessed. My angels are here.”

According to Huffpost Celebrity, Cameron Diaz told Parade magazine in 2009: "I have an unbelievable life. In some ways, I have the life that I have because I don’t have children," she said. "I don’t think it’s a compromise to have children. I don’t think it’s a compromise not to. I think it’s just a different choice."

Cameron Diaz

Media mogul, Oprah Winfrey said she never wanted children for herself. However, she founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa in 2007 -- and now counts the girls in her school as "daughters." 

She said: "I never had children, never even thought I would have children. Now I have 152 daughters; and still expecting more. That is some type of gestation period."

Oprah Winfrey

There are many other women, famous and not famous, in South Africa and all over the world – who chose to “delay” having kids or not having them at all. For some women it might not be intentional, but this article is about those say that having children is a choice, not some form of a “sign” to show that one is indeed a woman.

Mmakgang summed it up nicely when she said: “At my age (40) people will always want to put pressure, make comments and want to give advice. I do not succumb to pressure in any way that will affect my way of living and compromise my way of thinking. Everyone has a choice to decide what they want. There are people who are very influential and would make one believe otherwise and change ones way of thinking. Be yourself and believe in your principles.”


(Freelance journalist, content writer, copy editor, radio personality)

*Not their real names.