Sunday, July 20, 2014

Is it ok to be an African Nerd

Do African nerds have to hide their nerdiness to be accepted. If you show too much interest or knowledge about something should we encourage it.

Nerds can achieve a lot of things. If your African child loves cars a lot, should you subscribe them to a cars magazine or suggest another interest? Should you reach out to parents with children who love cars so that your child can get a chance to be part of a community that can nurture their intense passion? A love for cars can turn to a love for designing uniquely African cars if it is nurtured in the right manner.

Sometimes it seems like as Africans we value well roundedness so much that we discourage intense focus that can lead to breakthroughs. In fact too much interest in one thing often makes people wonder if you are not going crazy. 

As soon as my mother realized my love for reading she bought me a lot of books. I read all of them till they were torn and she bought more. I read so many books that by age 11, I told my parents I wanted to publish my own book. Most parents would laugh at this. My parents took me to a writers' group at the University of Botswana. I met with established writers and they were so positive and encouraging. This experience taught me not to be afraid to pursue any interest because people will think I am nerdy because the established writers were really keen to encourage my interest. I have moved on to other intense interests and my parents have never stopped being supportive. Writing, codes, theories, blogs, medicine, publications and games they keep up and never make me feel like I am too much.( I am a bit much but bless them, they never say it to my face :) )

Find out what your little siblings, son, daughter, niece or nephew is into and see how you can encourage them to pursue it. Most Nobel prize winners for science say an adult bought them a chemistry set at a young age and that encouragement sparked a lifelong focus on science. What is nerdiness if not intense focus on one or few interests.

If you are an African nerd, come out of the shadows and pursue your interest intensely to see where it may lead. You might fail but you might also succeed. I have failed pursuing some interests but you dust yourself up and re-focus.

Monday, July 7, 2014


(First blog post in a long time. Writing has always been a hobby and when the inspiration to write hits, you can't ignore it forever.)

The word of the week in tablets is ......SMART... (See photo of four bit code at my fb page, the amateur writer invents a word game, no surprises there!)

Smart is a very interesting word. We all have an idea of what it means but if you think about it, it is actually a vague word. It basically means you do well in school. Do people do well in school for the same reasons? Not really. I have met different kinds of 'smart' people.

The Hardworker - Loves working hard and passes because they put in the effort. If they do not study hard, they fail. Beginning of university may derail them if they get into a party loving group. Must maintain focus. They are my favorite kind of smart people because I think hard work is to be valued. Not every hard worker does well in school though so you do need to be able to retain the material you learned and knowing what to work hard on helps. If someone works hard and gets no results, there may be a need to get study tips or to find out if there is an underlying learning or memory problem.

The Gifted - There are many kinds of academic gifts. Some people have one while some have a combination of gifts. Hard work enhances any gift so gift or no gift, I hope you value hard work. The gifts include:

The auditory genius - Remembers most of what they hear, may pass by just going to lecture with no reading.

The conceptual genius - No need to explain hard concepts to them twice.

The photographic memory genius - basically a ticket to Harvard or thereabouts if lucky. However may struggle in math, science or law if they can't analyze what they remember well no matter how perfect they remember it.

The fast processor/thinker - Excellent at chess, card games and can calculate the bill with the tip added at restaurants fast. The most extreme I met was a humble friend at Stanford who could calculate the total for several items at the till with tax added fast enough to replace the cash register if it broke! Had MIT in his background, no surprise there. If they are in medical school the fast processor with conceptual abilities might struggle with memorizing heavy subjects like Micro and Pharmacology because these subjects require hard work and this type of smart person may be used to passing with no effort. Best suited for computer science where solving technical problems fast and handling loads of information fast are great advantages and impress bosses.

Unfortunately for me, I am the hard worker type for the most part. Definitely not a fast processor since I am terrible at chess and all fast paced card games. Do not even try to teach me. I like to think slowly, take my time, philosophize look for interesting patterns, theories, codes etc so I am more on the conceptual side. I let my fast processor friends handle the bill and tip at restaurants unless there is a calculator handy.

Medical school has been great because once I get to know people I slowly discover the gifts that got them here. Fascinating for someone interested in many aspects of human behavior.

Medical school also interestingly pushes all kinds of gifts to their limit such that hard work is required of people of all types from those with no gifts to those with many gifts. During the basic science years the amount of information is enough to overload any gift.

This is just about book smart types. There are many people who do ok in school but are smart in other areas e.g street smart, people savvy, business savvy, sports savvy etc. That's for another post.

What kind of smart are you or are you too modest to say? Fair enough.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ten manageable conditions/diseases that might make an otherwise loving African man abuse or even kill his wife or lover

When a man abuses his partner its not just sick, he might be literally sick and in need of medical attention.

Many relationships in Africa reach a point of no return due to domestic violence and abuse. An otherwise loving man suddenly changes in behavior and becomes violent forcing the woman to flee from the relationship. In some instances the violence ends in death of one or both partners (e.g 'passion killings') .

In some cultures women are encouraged to bear the abuse in silence hoping that it will end at some point and their once charming man will spontaneously return to normal.

It recently occurred to me that violent or abusive behavior could simply be a symptom of various manageable diseases or conditions. I set out to compile a list of some common conditions that could cause even well meaning men to become violent. All these conditions are manageable.

Ten manageable conditions/diseases that might make an otherwise loving African man abuse or even kill his wife or lover

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
Bipolar Disorder
Low self-esteem

Once an abusive incident has occurred, acknowledge that it was a bad thing and then find a way to get the perpetrator to seek medical attention.Get the relevant medical practitioners to take an extensive history that can help them decide which of the above conditions caused the violence and then devise a suitable treatment plan. Some medical practitioners may be too lazy to help, urge the perpetrator to be very persistent until they get help.

In the minds of many Africans, African men are a symbol of staunch rationality. It is hard to fathom that they can sometimes suffer from conditions that can slightly impair their rationality. Violence and abuse are bad. However in some instances they do not mean the man is a cruel unloving person, they just mean he is a human being with a condition that sometimes affects his rationality and he needs professional help to get better.

Many of the above conditions can be managed by medication and psychotherapy.We often wrongly believe that psychotherapy is for westerners. However, given the high level of domestic abuse, many African men might need to get themselves a personal psychiatrist and/or psychologist in order to show their love to their partners. Relatives can counsel a man who is abusing his wife or lover but they are not professionals and they cannot provide medications for mental conditions that cannot be healed by psychotherapy alone like anxiety and depression.

Do not wait until it is too late to get help for the man or walk out from an otherwise perfect relationship without looking into the above conditions which are manageable.Educate yourself and your loved ones about all these conditions because the information might help you save a relationship or even a life in the future.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cat-calls in Botswana

Station Cat-Calls ( Pssst, hey baby, come here beautiful and so on )

As a woman in Gaborone, Botswana you do not need to go to a style expert to tell you how good you are looking on any given day. All you have to do is walk through the main bus and taxi rank affectionately known as the “Station” and within a few minutes if you are well dressed you will know it. A group of petrol attendants or taxi drivers with time to kill on their hands while they are waiting for customers will hiss, psst or whistle to get your attention, followed by common phrases like “wuwu”, “baby”, “come here beautiful” or “can I have your number”. It is not only taxi drivers and petrol attendants who do this. Sometimes the cat-calling is done by road maintenance workers or construction workers from high up on scaffolds with their distinctive dark blue overalls and white hard hats on.

People have differing views on the Botswana cat-calling phenomenon. Some people think it is just harmless fun for the men while they go about their jobs. The men’s days can be long and boring so they need to do something exciting to get them through the day. With so many women of all kinds, shapes and sizes passing through the Station every day, the men will never lack for entertainment. Cat-calling gives them something to look forward to on days that they do not feel too excited about coming to work. Where is the harm in that?

Some of the cat-callers would even argue that they are doing a valuable service to women. They have seen women walking around with solemn faces break into beautiful, heartwarming smiles the minute they got cat-calls. It seems to brighten up the day of most of Gaborone’s women to know that, someone approves of what they are wearing and is willing to let them know. The cat-callers believe that the women might say they don’t like it but if they were to tell the truth, they would admit that on some level it makes them feel good. The men do not just cat-call anybody, they only cat-call Gaborone’s best dressed women. It is a nod of approval from the men and which woman can honestly say she does not want to get a nod of approval?

Avid opponents of cat-calling think that it is tacky and disrespectful to women. It makes it seem like women solely exist for men to look at. It treats women like pieces of meat which men have a right to judge. What gives the men the right to be the judges of who is looking good and who is not? Did Gaborone’s women ask them to judge them? Would the men like it if women judged whether they were well dressed or not on a day to day basis? Women feel that cat-calling puts unnecessary pressure on them to conform to the standards of the cat-callers. Walking through the Station feels like walking into a beauty pageant women did not sign up for and this makes some women nervous and self-conscious. There are some women who dread passing through the Station or any place like the Station.

I have endured cat-calling (or lack-thereof on days I was not well dressed) while growing up in Gaborone. I have hated it on some days and appreciated it during others. I think the men are really well meaning and just want to voice their appreciation of women and the effort they make to look good. However, I think cat-calling is the wrong way to show appreciation for women. The men could simply walk up to a woman and say, “Hi Miss, I think you look really good today. Have a nice day” without whistling, making strange sounds or making lewd gestures or comments. This would be polite, respectful and it would serve the same purpose as cat-calling.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good critical thinking skills can improve our movies, books, art, newspapers etc

Why did Tsotsi win an Oscar - The importance of critical thinking.

A guide to how Africans can produce movies and pieces of writing that will be applauded by local and international intellectual critics

Why did the movie Tsotsi (the criminal) win an Oscar? The answer is simple. It is because the story line showed superior critical thinking. The story line was not your simple thief steals car, police investigate and thief gets caught story. That would have been boring and predictable. The story line of Tsotsi asks what would happen if a hardened Tsotsi stole a car and found a baby in the back. This forces you to stop and think hard about this scenario. The Tsotsi kills people on a daily basis; will it be easy for him to kill an adorable little baby? Will the baby soften the Tsotsi’s heart and allow him to get in touch with his lost sense of compassion or will this encounter barely matter to the criminal?

In the movie, the Tsotsi decides to take care of the baby. Even though he is terrible at it, he really tries his best. In the process we discover that the baby reminds the Tsotsi about the innocence that was robbed from the Tsotsi by a harsh life on the streets. We realize that the Tsotsi was once a sweet, pure child but the tough living conditions for black people brought about by the nasty apartheid regime forced Tsotsi to become a killing machine. He becomes deeply attached to the baby because he wishes he was still as innocent as the baby but the sad reality is that there is no way for Tsotsi to recapture his innocence. He is so far deep in a life of crime that he cannot get a fresh start like the baby, which makes Tsotsi a very sad and heart wrenching story. We realize that Tsotsi, the criminal, was an unfortunate victim of circumstance and it is painful that he cannot be helped because he is beyond help; he has killed too many people. Tsotsi is not just about a thief stealing a car. It is a story about the loss of innocence, coming of age in an unfair world like apartheid era South Africa which limited young African people’s potential and being trapped in a bad way of life with no way out. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby at the end of Tsotsi.

Any good movie or piece of writing must explore a common theme from a unique and fresh perspective like Tsotsi. There must be a compelling central theme or idea that sticks in people’s minds and lingers on long after they have finished reading the story or watching the movie. The product must show some critical analysis of the subject matter. Great writers and movie producers or artists deeply move or unsettle their readers.

How does one acquire these necessary critical thinking skills? An education in the humanities like English, Philosophy, History and Political Science can mold an individual into a critical thinker. Many people in Africa think a liberal arts education is useless. We always think its better to study law, medicine, accounting and economics in order to become successful. However a liberal arts education is very valuable because it helps individuals explore their own minds and find out what they are capable of. It forces students to look at their world from a new perspective and to try to question why things are the way they are.

You cannot make compelling adverts, movies, stories or poems if you are not a critical thinker. The works will seem aimless and intellectual critics will shun them. Nollywood produces a lot of movies, however very few of them get critical acclaim because the stories do not force you to look at things differently in any way. Most Nollywood movies just show you real life with no unique thesis. African movie makers need to develop good critical thinking skills before picking up a camera to shoot anything.

If you are past university age, its not too late to learn how to be a critical thinker. Read a lot of high quality books and form a book club to discuss the ideas presented in these books and how they gave you a new perspective on any issue. Reading Pulitzer prize winning books and other books that have achieved critical acclaim can help in developing sound critical thinking skills. Watch Oscar winning movies and try to figure out why they worn Oscars while other movies didn't. Once you can tell good quality movies from bad ones, you will be on your way to knowing how you could make good quality, thought provoking, compelling movies, books, newspaper articles and adverts.

African news, television, movies and life in general could greatly benefit from great critical thinkers.

These books below and others helped me become a better critical thinker. You have to work hard to get the results, so read and re-read.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Woman Warrior – Maxine Kingston
To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Frankenstein by Marry Shelley
Roxana by Daniel Defoe

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A tangible symbol of African Cooperation

I am still waiting for your essays. Here is an essay I wrote about a concrete and simple strategy to bring sustainable development to Africa. Enjoy!

A tangible symbol of African Cooperation

What do the statue of liberty and the Eifel tower have in common other than that they serve as distinguishing landmarks for the places they stand on? These two features serve as a source of pride for the people of the countries they are in. They represent the determination and hard work of their ancestors. They are also a gift for future generations from their ancestors. Young people can stand at the feet of these majestic creations and feel connected to the dreams and aspirations of their forefathers who stood there to create the monuments to inspire them to realize any of their dreams.

For many people, African cooperation seems like an elusive dream. What if Africans came together to create a majestic structure that would be a tangible symbol of what Africans can achieve if we cooperate? This structure could inspire so many Africans to look forward to a positive future and would be a legacy that will impact future generations.

African cities could bid for the structure to be erected in them. The city with the least crime that shows that they could stand to benefit the most from hosting the structure would win. If many cities are tied, a blind draw could be used to pick one city.

People from across Africa could be invited to design a majestic structure that would be breathtaking. Once a design is chosen, architects from across Africa could meet to plan for the structure and to decide which materials to use which will last a long time. A contractor could then be hired to build the structure with the project being funded by various African governments and from donations by rich and regular Africans.

The structure should be interesting enough to be a source of tourist attraction. Africa can then invite the world to see this structure which would prove that African cooperation is not an unattainable dream. Tourists could pay to visit the structure and the funds could be evenly divided amongst African countries every year. If the structure could be very tall, allow businesses like restaurants to be built inside it, and have elevators to take people to the top to see a great view while inside the structure, this would be ideal. For example, the structure could be a giraffe with a really long and strong neck. This would be the tallest statue of an animal anywhere in the world. People could climb up the statue to see through the eyes of the giraffe more than a thousand feet in the sky. This would be a uniquely African experience that tourists could not get anywhere else.

Instead of Westerners giving us aid for nothing, they could come and visit the structure and leave generous donations. The money could go into a highly secure device only to be opened when it is time to divide the money among African countries in order to avoid embezzlement. Some of the funds could go towards maintaining the structure in good condition.

Every African should want to take their children to the structure to show them that with a little cooperation, they can achieve anything. I would definitely swell up with pride and tears if I lived to see anything like this.

If dreaming is a crime, I am guilty. I hope some of the dreams come true some day.

Dithapelo Medupe