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From Football to Rocket Science: Meet the Young People Changing the World in 2018

MD Staff

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One hundred of the world’s most promising artists, business leaders, public servants, social entrepreneurs and technologists under the age of 40 have been invited to join the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders. The aim is to enable them to shape an inclusive and sustainable future for the world.

They will join a community and a five-year programme that will challenge them to think beyond their scope of expertise and make a stronger impact as leaders.

They have been nominated because of their creativity and innovation; their ability to build bridges across cultures and between business, government and civil society; and their pioneering work in arts and culture, business, design, energy, health, public policy, sustainability and technology.

The Forum of Young Global Leaders is a multistakeholder community of leaders from all walks of life, from every region of the world. Current members head governments and Fortune 500 companies, hold Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards, and have become UN Goodwill Ambassadors and Social Entrepreneurs.

Over half of the YGL Class of 2018 are women, and the majority of the cohort are from emerging economies. Together, they represent the very best potential of their generation and are advancing new models of sustainable social innovation. The full list can be downloaded at http://wef.ch/ygl18.

“We’re challenging these 100 women and men to do more and be more. They’ll join a community of enterprising, socially minded leaders working as a force for good, and highlight the potential for innovation to correct the shortcomings in our economies and societies,” said John Dutton, Head of the Forum of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum.

The Class of 2018 includes the following people from:

Africa (sub-Saharan)

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (M), a Nigerian Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is changing the way payments are made in Africa as Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Flutterwave, an API start-up that attracted $10 million in investment in 2017. He also co-founded Andela, which trains and connects African developers to global companies for work.

Samuel Alemayehu (M) is Managing Director, Cambridge Industries, Ethiopia. He is a Stanford engineer and Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is developing Africa’s first waste-to-energy plant and the continent’s largest wind farm.

Fatoumata Ba (F) is Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Jumia Group, Africa’s first tech unicorn. She is also Chief Executive Officer of Janngo, Africa’s first social start-up studio.

Akim Daouda (M) is Chief Investment Officer of the Gabonese Sovereign Wealth Fund, Gabon. Outside of work, he supports a youth education NGO.

Khaled Igué (M) is Founder and President of Club 2030 Afrique, Benin, a think-tank focused on economic and social development in Africa. He is also Head of Public-Private Partnerships for Africa at OCP mining company.

Sébastien Kadio-Morokro (M) is one of the youngest CEOs in the African oil and gas industry as Chief Executive Officer of Petro Ivoire, Côte d’Ivoire. He is also Chairman of the Board of Clinique Procrea, which specializes in maternal health, child health and fertility.

Unathi Kamlana (M) is Deputy Registrar of Banks & Head of Department, Prudential Policy, Stats & Support, South African Reserve Bank.

Karabo Morule (F) is Managing Director, Personal Finance, Old Mutual Emerging Markets, South Africa. She is the first woman to sit on the company’s executive committee.

Natalie Payida-Jabangwe (F) is the Chief Executive of Ecocash, part of Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe. She runs the second-largest mobile financial service in Africa, managing the operation and financial transactions for 6 million customers.

Anushka Ratnayake (F) is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of myAgro, Mali. She supports small-scale farmers to pay for fertilizer and seeds through a mobile platform and is planning to reach 1 million farmers by 2025, increasing their income by $1.50 per farmer per day.

East Asia

Deng Adut (M) is Co-Founder and Partner at AC Law Group, Australia. He also founded the John Mac Foundation, which provides higher education scholarships to students from refugee backgrounds.

Nami Chung (F) is Managing Director at the Asan Nanum Foundation, Republic of Korea. She is leading efforts on youth empowerment and entrepreneurship.

Ren Hua Ho (M) is the Executive Director of hospitality brand Banyan Tree Holdings, Singapore, and Chief Executive Officer of Thai Wah, a food conglomerate. He volunteers as a mentor at a prison in Singapore and serves on several NGO boards.

Elaine Kim (F) is the Co-Founder and Partner of CRIB (Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses), Singapore. She helps women become entrepreneurs and is a doctor and Chief Executive Officer of HCA Hospice Care, providing care for the terminally ill in their homes. She also co-founded Singapore’s first co-working space for families, Trehaus.

Nadiem Makarim (M) is Chief Executive Officer of GO-JEK, a motorcycle ride-hailing app that has evolved into payments, food delivery and other lifestyle services in Indonesia. The fleet includes 400,000 drivers and over 3,000 service providers.

Lucy McRae (F) is Principal, Lucy McRae, Australia. An artist and inventor, she is recognized as an early identifier of emerging technologies, leading Philips Electronics research lab.

Kaila Murnain (F) is General Secretary, New South Wales Branch, Australian Labor Party, Australia, the first woman to hold this position. Her aim is to change the culture of the party, making it more inclusive.

John Riady (M) is Director of Lippo Group, a business conglomerate based in Indonesia that includes real estate, retail, hospitals and internet services.

Simon Sheikh (M) is the Founder and Managing Director of Future Super, Australia’s first fossil-fuel-free pension fund.

Taejun Shin (M) is the Founder and Representative Director, Living in Peace, Japan. A former investment banker, he runs an NGO committed to education for peace.

David Sin (M) is Chief Executive Officer of SIN Capital Group, Singapore, and Deputy Chairman of Fullerton Health, a health foundation, where he is spearheading projects to help the elderly, low-income families and disadvantaged youth.

Shoko Takahashi (F) is Representative Director at Genequest, Japan. Her start-up gathers customers’ genetic information to develop drugs specific to their treatment.

Wai Wai Nu (F) is the Founder and Director of the Women Peace Network, Myanmar. A former political prisoner, she has been at the forefront of human rights activism and helps women fight abuse such as sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Hannah Yeoh (F) is Speaker, Malaysia Democratic Action Party. She is the country’s first female speaker for Selangor State Assembly and the youngest speaker of any legislative assembly in the country.

Vivy Yusof (F) is a Malaysian fashion entrepreneur, social media influencer and advocate for women’s empowerment. She founded dUCK, a fashion brand and FashionValet, a multimillion-dollar online retail start-up.

Europe and Eurasia

Heba Aly (F) is Journalist and Director of IRIN, Switzerland, a leading source of original, field-based journalism on humanitarian crises.

Barbara Ann Bernard (F) is the Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer of Wincrest Capital, a global equity fund. An Irish national, she also chairs Ultera Technologies, a clean energy company.

Oana Bîzgan (F) is a member of Parliament of Romania, representing Bucharest and works on equal opportunities for women and men and economic policy. She ran Romania’s NoHateNoFear campaign.

Valeri Chekheria (M) is Chief Executive Officer of Adjara Group Hospitality, a hotelier and agricultural entrepreneur from Georgia and business advocate for sustainability, human rights and anti-corruption.

Xavier Duportet (M) is Chief Executive Officer of Eligo Bioscience, France. His company developed antimicrobial medicines that can be programmed to target bacteria based on their genome – a treatment that can be used for illnesses like Crohn’s disease. He also runs Hello Tomorrow, a non-profit that helps promising science-entrepreneurs trying to solve the world’s most pressing issues.

Mathieu Pierre Flamini (M) is the Founder of and Partner at GFBiochemicals, United Kingdom, and a professional football player turned environmental entrepreneur. GFBiochemicals produces levulinic acid, a substance that could be an alternative to petrol.

Gloria Fluxa Thienemann (F) is Co-Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Grupo Iberostar, Spain, a tourism multinational operating in 30 countries with over 100 hotels, travel agencies and operators, employing over 28,000 people. She is also a campaigner for marine sustainability.

Maya Foa (F) is Director of Reprieve, the legal charity based in the United Kingdom that has a team of lawyers fighting human-rights abuses such as the death penalty, assassinations and secret prisons.

Sanni Grahn-Laasonen (F) is the Minister of Education and Culture of Finland. The Nordic country’s school system has consistently come at the top of international rankings for education systems.

Camilla Hagen Soerli (F) is the Executive Manager of Canica, one of the largest privately owned investment companies in Norway. She also manages the Canica Foundation, investing in medical research with a focus on women’s health.

Solveigh Hieronimus (F) is Partner at McKinsey & Company, Germany, who specializes in refugees, migration, welfare and employment. She is a speaker at the European Parliament, the European Summit on Youth Unemployment and the Chatham House Conference.

Gwenaelle Huet (F) is the Chief Executive Officer, France, Renewable Energy, ENGIE Group, France. Formerly with the French government handling climate negotiations, she is now responsible for hydro, wind, geothermal, solar PV and marine energy projects at Engie.

Ipek Ilicak Kayaalp (F) is Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, Ronesans Holding, Turkey, a group of companies specializing in construction, real estate investment, energy, health and education.

Christian Kroll (M) is the Scientific Co-Director of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Index and Dashboards at Bertelsmann Stiftung, the German think tank. The index and dashboards measure country performance on the UN SDGs and show how world leaders can deliver on their promises for reforms.

Gaurav Mehta (M) is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dharma Life, India. A former private equity professional, he runs a social enterprise that enables entrepreneurs in rural areas to improve their local communities.

Miroslava Duma (F) is the Founder of Future Tech Lab, Russian Federation. She is an entrepreneur who is commercializing new, sustainable technologies and innovations for the fashion industry. Her work includes founding an investment company, experimental fashion tech lab, lifestyle digital platform, and a women and children’s online store.

Albert Rivera Díaz (M) is President of Ciudadanos – Partido de la Ciudadanía, Spain. A Spanish attorney and politician, he is also an anti-corruption and diversity champion.

Susannah Rodgers (F) is a British Paralympic swimmer who won 30 international medals, including three bronze medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and a gold and two bronze medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. She is a Non-Executive Director of the British Athletes Commission.

Nico Rosberg (M) is a German-Finnish Formula One race driver and 2016 Formula One World Champion who drove for Williams F1 and Mercedes AMG Petronas under the German flag.

Marlene Schiappa (F) is a French politician serving as France’s Secretary of State in charge of Equality between Women and Men.

Mustafa Suleyman (M) is one of the three co-founders of DeepMind, an artificial intelligence lab in the United Kingdom that was acquired by Google in 2014 for a reported £400 million.

Leo Varadkar (M) is the Taoiseach of Ireland. A medical doctor, he became the country’s youngest-ever prime minister in 2017.

Greater China

Kent Ho (M) is Founder and General Partner of s28 Capital, Hong Kong SAR. His company is one of the largest new early-stage venture capital funds in Silicon Valley.

Li Jia (F) is Head of Research and Development, Google Cloud Artificial Intelligence, Alphabet, USA. Previously head of research at Snapchat, she now heads the Google AI China Center and is an adjunct professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Jingfang Hao (F) is a Researcher at the China Development Research Foundation, People’s Republic of China. A researcher in macroeconomics, she also writes science fiction and leads a non-profit, Tong Xing, working on social impact projects.

Wang Huai (M), a former Facebook engineer, he leads Linear Venture, a technology investment firm. He is also Chairman of the Youth Group of China’s Future Forum, a non-profit establishing an interdisciplinary platform to promote science that helps humanity.

Xiao Liu (M) is Senior Vice-President of China Vanke, one of the largest property companies in China.

Wenjuan Mi (F) is Chief Executive Officer of VIPKID, People’s Republic of China. She empowers children through her English language education institution, which connects Chinese students to an international learning experience.

Li Sixuan (F) is Anchor for China Central Television, People’s Republic of China.

Wen Wang (F) is a Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Singapore. A biochemist, she focuses on using technology to address sustainability, healthcare and food security.

Huiyan Yang (F) is Chairwoman of Country Garden Holdings, China’s largest property developer. She is China’s richest woman and her company has sold properties to 1.5 million homeowners and employs 70,000 people worldwide.

Carol Yu (F) is Anchor for Phoenix Satellite Television, Hong Kong SAR. She hosts Visionaries, which reaches over 400 million viewers in Asia alone.

Lu Zhang (F) is the Founding and Managing Partner of Fusion Fund, USA, a venture capital firm that specializes in early stage healthcare and technology investments. She made her mark in the industry after founding a company focused on non-invasive technology for early diagnosis of Type II diabetes.

Latin America

Kerstin Forsberg (F) is an ocean conservation activist based in Peru and Founder of Asociación para la Conservación de Ambientes Marinos y Costeros and Planeta Océano, a non-profit fighting to protect marine environments.

Sebastián Alejandro Kind (M) is Undersecretary for Renewable Energy, Ministry of Energy and Mining of Argentina and leading a national plan to generate 20% of the country’s power by 2025.

Juan Jose Pocaterra (M) is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ViKua, Venezuela. His company develops smart city technologies and he is Venezuela’s representative to the White House Emerging Entrepreneurs Initiative.

Alejandro Malgor (M) is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Xinca, a company based in Argentina that makes shoes from discarded car tyres. Xinca partners with sustainable brands like Patagonia and has produced 20,000 pairs from 13 tons of recycled tyres since 2013.

Kapil Mohabir (M) is the Founding Managing Partner of Plympton Farms, Guyana. His social enterprise is the largest exporter of tropical products in Guyana, and he seeks to alleviate rural poverty by working with smallholder framers.

Juan Pablo Larenas (M) is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sistema B, Chile. His organization promotes collaboration between businesses, government and civil society towards social innovation.

Middle East and North Africa

Faisal Abbas (M) is Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, Saudi Arabia.

Razan Al Mubarak (F) is Secretary-General of the Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi (EAD), United Arab Emirates.

Sarah Al-shuhaimi (F) is the first woman to chair Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange and is Chief Executive Officer and Member of the Board of NCB Capital, Saudi Arabia.

Riad Armanious (M) is Chief Executive Officer of Eva Pharma, Egypt. A philanthropist and entrepreneur, he turned his family’s small business into one of the region’s fastest-growing pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Reem Fadda (F) is an internationally recognized art curator based in the Palestinian Territories.

Rayan Fayez (M) is Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Banque Saudi Fransi, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest banks.

Reem Khouri (F) is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kaamen, Jordan. She runs a social enterprise that supports organizations in designing their economic and social contracts with society.

Tamer Makary (M) is the Founder of Ethica Partners in the United Arab Emirates. He established Africa’s first not-for-profit eye hospital in Cameroon and he is launching local eye care interventions in Indonesia.

Alisha Moopen (F) is Executive Director of Aster DM Healthcare, United Arab Emirates. She oversees 85 clinics and focuses on initiatives for village development, ranging from small children to women’s education. She is also a trustee and active member of the Aster DM Foundation, working with children with congenital heart disease.

North America

Angela Baker (F) is Head of Qualcomm Wireless Reach, USA, a strategic initiative of Qualcomm that brings wireless technology to underserved communities around the world, reaching over 10 million beneficiaries.

Kelly Buchanan (F) is Senior Vice-President, Commercial Solutions, Mastercard, USA. She led the efforts to initiate Mastercard’s Women in Technology programme and is involved in Girls 4 tech, a programme that teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics to schoolgirls across the world.

Joy Dunn (F) is the Lead of New Product Introduction, Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), USA. She leads the task force taking new spacecraft from design concept into production. She co-founded the Women’s Network and LGBTQ employee groups at SpaceX and is involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach.

Michael Faye (M) is Executive Chairman of GiveDirectly, USA. His charity allows donors to send money directly to the poor with no strings attached and is researching the effects of unconditional basic income in developing economies. He also runs Segovia, a technology company that aims to make charitable payments safer.

Joseph P. Kennedy (M) is Congressman from Massachusetts (D), 4th District, United States House of Representatives, USA.

Maggie MacDonnell (F) is the teacher from Ikusik School, one of the most northern communities in Canada, who won the Global Teacher Prize 2017. With the $1 million award, she is planning a non-profit for youth to engage on issues such as culture, climate change, health and global citizenship.

Nadeem Meghji (M) is Senior Managing Director at Blackstone, USA. Working in the Real Estate Group and Head of Real Estate Americas, he oversees $60 billion of investor capital. He is also a board member for the Lupus Research Alliance.

Subha Nagarajan (F) is leading GE Capital’s emerging markets investment portfolio. Previously, she managed over $2 billion worth of investment deals in Africa at the Overseas Private Investment Corp, the US Government development finance institution.

Billy Parish (M) is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Solar Mosaic, USA. An author, businessman and philanthropist, his company is the largest lender for home solar in the United States. He also founded, Power Shift Network, one of the largest youth climate change advocacy organizations in the world.

Catherine Raw (F) is Chief Financial Officer at Barrick Gold Corporation, Canada, one of the largest investors in mining.

Lily Sarafan (F) is Chief Executive Officer of Home Care Assistance, USA. Her start-up is the largest consumer health company in ageing services, generating $100 billion with 5,000 employees. She was a Chairwoman of the National Iranian American Council, an activist for Moms Against Poverty, and pioneered educational programmes for orphaned girls in Cambodia and Iran.

Arvind Satyam (M) leads global business development for Cisco’s Smart Cities Initiative, supporting cities in their efforts to improve energy management, disaster preparedness and public safety.

Fern Shaw (F) is President of UPS, USA. She oversees 15,000 employees in finance, sales, package and transport operations, industrial and plant engineering, human resources, automotive, security and labour relations.

Jagmeet Singh (M) is a Member of Ontario Provincial Parliament and leader of the New Democratic Party, Canada.

Edward “Smitty” Smith (M) is a Partner at DLA Piper, USA. He delivered broadband to underserved communities as a member of the Obama Administration, advised the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and ran for Attorney General in the District of Columbia.

Alexander Soros (M) is the Owner of Soros Fund Management, USA. He founded the Alexander Soros Foundation, promoting civil rights, social justice and education through grants. He is also Deputy Chair of the Open Society Foundations, which supports civil society groups around the world.

Tom Szaky (M) is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of TerraCycle, USA. A champion of the circular economy movement, his company repurposes hard-to-recycle consumer waste such as chip bags and cigarette butts.

Leana Wen (F) is the emergency physician taking on Baltimore’s health crises as the city’s Commissioner of Health. As the head of one of America’s most experimental health departments, she tackles everything from the city’s crippling drug abuse problem to high infant mortality.

South Asia

Nighat Dad (F) is the Founder of the Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan. A lawyer and internet activist, her non-profit is helping Pakistani women fight against online harassment.

Bhairavi Jani (F) is Executive Director of the SCA Group of Companies, a major logistics firm in India. An entrepreneur and one of the most powerful women in India, she has advised governments and private organizations.

Rhea Mazumdar Singhal (F) is Chief Executive Officer of Ecoware Solutions, India. She is tackling plastic waste by manufacturing a biodegradable – and cheaper – alternative to plastics. She also volunteers to help cancer patients.

Hamdullah Mohib (M) is a diplomat who is the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States of America.

Armstrong Pame (M) is Joint Secretary, Government of Manipur, India. Known as “the miracle man”, he took up an ambitious road project without government funds, leading to the opening of a 100-kilometre road that links poor communities in Manipur with the outside world.

Suchi Saria (F) is the John C. Malone Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University, USA. She runs one of the leading labs at the intersection of artificial intelligence and healthcare to make early detection and diagnosis a reality.

Alok Shetty (M) is Founder and Principal Architect of Bhumiputra Group, an architectural firm in India that designs flood-resistant homes, costing as little as $300, for low-income housing in Bangalore. He is on a mission to improve people’s quality of life in poor districts and was named “Young Leader for Tomorrow” by Time magazine.

Kanika Tekriwal (F) is the Chief Executive Officer of JetSetGo, India’s largest private jet company. Often called the “Uber of air travel”, JetSetGo manages and operates private jets that are owned by others.

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New Social Compact

Alone in the dark: The Sylvia Plath Effect and the South poet

Abigail George

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I was 16 when I first attempted to take my own life. I was seeing a psychiatrist (he of the Einsteinian-hair, he had studied at a university in Vienna, his son went to the same high school my brother went to, the highly-prestigious Grey High School for Boys) at the time who was convinced that Risperdal could help me, elevate my mood. I was depressed, very, very depressed. I drank some red wine, and took some pills, and slept it off. There have been other attempts.

Anti-depressants, counselling, psychiatrists, a coma, psychosis, hallucinations (some auditory), but there also have been periods of intense creativity. The psychotropic medication seems to have not impacted my imagination, only my dopamine and serotonin levels. I felt down a lot in high school. I had no one to eat lunch with. One friend.

Every year I had one friend. One black friend. I got tired of being tired (they call it chronic fatigue syndrome). Sometimes I thought I was just pretending. That was why I was attracted to acting in the first place.

I didn’t have to be me anymore. I still think at 40 what people think of me, I’m still dying for my mother’s approval. There were crushing-and-numbing lows that felt like a succession of deaths, clinical depression, insomnia (I found it very difficult to fall asleep, would toss and turn the entire night listening to my parents fight behind their closed bedroom door, I read into the early hours of the morning with a torch under the covers). I’m fragile. I was abused mentally, verbally, physically by my mother for most of my childhood.

Later she isolated me from my so-called friends, from so-called family, and then rejected me because of the texture of my kinky-peppercorn hair. In her words I was an “wretchedly-ugly mistake”, who was “nothing special to look at”, “an intellectual like your father”, “take your smarties yet”. According to my mother, for years, I did not have a mental illness (see bipolar mood disorder), I was demon-possessed and needed prayer.

High school was difficult for me. I was bullied, and I was a bully. I was an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, a high achiever academically but after the first two years of high school my grades started to slip). You would think that this would have been a warning sign for either my mother, or my manic-depressive father, who was also an over-achiever as I was. So, I felt pain every day, no one was pulling me through this pain, I hardly could get out of bed in the morning, there were no romantic entanglements with boys my own age (which meant no heavy petting, French-kissing, making out, distracted by sex, boyfriends, or popularity), no girlfriends who came to the house, no experimenting with the smoking of cigarettes. I decided I as an atheist, although I still went to church with my parents, and my siblings, my younger brother, and sister. I can’t put all my happy memories, and my childhood, and my elegant and narcissistic mother in a time capsule. I have the same nose like my mother.

My mother thought the obvious, it was drugs. I was smoking marijuana.

It was my peer-group. I was hanging out with the wrong friends. She blamed anything, everything, everyone, family, estranged family, cousins, except herself. I take tranquilisers at night to sleep, fall asleep watching television. Then there are my sleeping pills, my father’s sleeping pills, my aunt’s sleeping pills. Then there’s Pax, Lithium, Zolnox, Arizofy, Puricos for the gout, Puresis, the water tablet, for my chronic kidney disease. It seems that all I’ve seem to do for most of my life is take pills to make me happy, scale the seawalls of the depression, but it is seeming, writing keeps finding me, and I keep finding writing. Books, plays, novellas, poetry, essays, and blog posts. I was a teenage runaway. Sometimes I’m stressed out. I know how to deal with that kind of currency now. I’m still insecure. I’m like the most vulnerable person I know. I can’t turn back time.

I ran away to Johannesburg, and then to Swaziland, and wanted to go to the London Film School when I was 16. I’m designer playwright, keen diarist, hooked on becoming a memoirist, and inspiring ideas when I’m found hibernating in my room, lying in the foetal position on my bed listening to music blaring from my radio, and yes, I’m still running, carrying the cross. I’m only happy though when I’m a failure. I’m only unhappy when I’m adding another accomplishment, onto an already full list of accomplishments. Acting my heart out on the stage, drama rehearsals at the Opera House, lead role in the house play, Quiz, editor of the school newspaper, swimming laps in the local Gelvandale Olympic-sized swimming pool etcetera, etcetera. The everlasting list goes on, and never-ending on. I make money out of writing now.

I’ve lived with the naming, the shame-and-blame for all of my life.

Whose fault was it that I was abused, or that I was molested as an adolescent, or that I was too trustworthy of men in positions of power, and thought that every female that I met was my friend. Last year, I baked a cake for my birthday. It was the most beautiful cake in the world. I decorated it with mini-meringues and African violets, but nobody touched it, put it past their lips. And so, my 39th birthday collapsed, fell to pieces around me. I cut out recipes from magazines, and in the kitchen, I have this burning desire, this burning search to be chef, and baker. I sleep with cookbooks next to me on my bed. And like the high priestess of soul, Nina Simone, or the actress-celebrity Dorothy Dandridge, Oprah Winfrey, Misty Upham, you can only bury your thoughts, your shame, the people that you hold responsible for not loving you unconditionally, or protecting you.

Or nurturing you, or saying that they were proud of you, you can only bury your feelings for so long. So, now I write about the stigma, the bipolar struggle, the anxiety and fear that depression brings up inside of me like a storm, and you will usually find me crying in the dark, stifling my sobs into my pillow at night, dark is the night, winter has moved on, and I shy away from autumn, I’m battling survival, my survival, and I’m so well aware of the women who have not lived to fight another day (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Assia Wevill, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Donkin, Iris Chang, Petya Dubarova). I’m battling daily. There are days that I feel deceived with burning desire by every single man, woman, and child that I encounter. I think of my happy childhood memories. I think of my sadness, my introspection, my reflections that mirror my soul. Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to childhood. Usually my mother’s perfume.

YSL’s Opium. To this day, that perfume gives me flashbacks.

Sometimes, just sometimes I think of the love of my life touching my face, and then I see him walking away from me in a parking lot, and I smile at this memory. I smile at the injustice of it all, that a man had loved me after all, and I ask myself, do you want even more heartache, more pain, more despair, then tell him that you love him back, that you only live for him. I smile at the memory of Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath, because after all he chose her to be his wife, and the mother of his children. Weddings are happy occasions marked by pomp and ceremony, and the happiness, and difficulties of both bride, and groom. It hurts too much on the inhale of the howl, and inside I’m a philosopher in the tradition of Nietzsche, and inside I’m a preacher. And sometimes, just sometimes the history of the bipolar, the madness life, the life that I live on my terms hurts too much on the exhale. In the bathroom mirror I write the narrative of love to myself.

There is a link between creativity, and mental illness, genius, and madness, and then I think of my extraordinary achievements, of my father’s giftedness, my mother’s own capacity for spells of melancholy, and giddy happiness, her talent for flowers. I see things that other people can’t. I hear things that other people can’t. I can’t turn back time to the good old days. I have moths, and butterflies, and swallows, and birds in my stomach, a reputation, an angel-tongue in my mouth. Love has passed me by. I made a conscious decision not to marry, not to have children, but it didn’t make me less unafraid of the world around me. I made a conscious choice not to experiment with illicit drugs. I don’t drink. And, yes, I thought the love of my life, and I would live the years together, from the infatuation-phase to the honeymoon-phase. It is better to have loved, and lost, than never to have loved at all.

I have tried to take my own life four times now. I have relapsed more times than I can care to remember, but I still believe in the inter-communicative, inter-related, grassroots-secret of longevity. I love life.

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Finally diagnosed with Bipolar and understanding God’s purpose for my life

Abigail George

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I’ve outlasted a lot of things. I’m over 35. I am nearing 40 years of age. I’ve made mistakes and lived with regret but I don’t anymore. And I’m finally able to make peace with the mistakes I’ve made in my past.

I can forgive someone who brought me pain. The suicidal thoughts that I’ve manages to overcome. I think of our happy my parents were in my childhood. I think of every childhood experience as happy except the memories brought back to me of apartheid. I don’t have to tell myself anymore, you can make it. By the grace and mercy of God, I’ve survived. And it is God that has outlasted my storms.

So for the millions of people out there who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or have a loved one living with a mental illness, be brave. You are going to get through this storm. You’re a fighter.

You’re going to make it and when you come out on the other side, talk about it, or write about your survival, tell someone about it, become a storyteller, or give your testimony. You might save a life in the same way yours was saved.

As I write this I think of Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and being fake-happy. Pretending to love being alone and not being the proper example of a good daughter. You want someone to love you until the end of time. I want someone to love until the end of time. I want people to love me. To remember me. In some way I want to belong to the world. I grew up with a narcissistic mother who passed this trait to her only son and middle daughter. That and beauty. That and arrogance.

But beauty fades like fast cars. It’s just tears I tell myself.

Tomorrow I’d have forgotten about them. Anticipating waves or the vibrations of depression does nothing for the way you look on the outside. It is all for you. I do it, I write it for you. I don’t know who you are. I just know that you accept me for who I am. I’m growing older and in the blue-dark I can’t see that I am growing older. All I do, the poetry, the writing is for you. I’m selfish that way, I guess.

I don’t want happiness. I just want a brave personality. That and the writing is what gets me through the hours, the day, the night. And sometimes I try very hard through the tears not to even think of going there. Of letting go. Sometimes I think I love this world too much. I love you, the Reader. I do love you. Perhaps in the end you’re the only thing that’s keeping the chemicals from balancing me the right way up. It’s all for you the Reader. Everything that I’ve ever written. You’re the assignment. Perhaps you’re the mission.

I was finally diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder after Tara. I spent

6 months in a mental institution in Johannesburg. Mental illness stamped on my forehead for all to see, alongside a stigma, a family (and paternal and maternal family) that saw to it that I quickly became an outcast, felt like an interloper when spoken to. I was ignored, and sat quietly by myself at family functions. It was as if I was in high school again. I never cried about it, but I don’t think that made me brave.

I was half-mute like Princess Diana, and Maya Angelou as a child.

Something had happened to me. Somehow I had been transformed intrinsically in childhood (it was because of my mother’s mental, verbal, and emotional abuse), but was it the environment that changed, no, no. It was human nature. All the humans around me. Bright children, no matter how bright they might seem even if adult words come out of their mouths, all children are still innocent. And all children want is the mother-love, and I felt the lack of mother-love acutely with an acumen and focus beyond my years.

I was called insubordinate by a male teacher once. Years later when we met at a prayer meeting, he spontaneously embraced me. In that moment, I forgave him. For the corporal punishment he had meted out to me for letting someone else, a popular girl, copy out my answers in a test. I thought I would be liked. But I wasn’t. I was still a goody two shoes.

I still sometimes would spend break in a bathroom stall.

As a moony-moody teenager I would read. I was mostly withdrawn, serious, never smiling (I never smiled once at Collegiate, it hurt too much to smile, my mother would go on rampages then, hurling mental abuse at me in the morning for breakfast, afternoon tea, and supper which my sister made for us. My mother was depressed too in a sinister and deceptive way). Now let me get back to never smiling, and never playing team sports.

Let me talk about the (good) old days. Collegiate High School for Girls in Port Elizabeth (a Model C school). That year, 1995, I was of course a perfectionist. A bipolar perfectionist who only ever understood the world of achievement, achievement. It had nothing and everything to do with having a Khoi-ego, Khoi-identity, Khoi-personality. But I would only understand the knowledge of Khoi-anything later on.

In those days I relaxed my hair. My hair was so straight it made no curls or waves, and I wore it in a ballerina bun. I was skinny, not voluptuous or buxom like the other girls. Late to bloom, as the saying goes. At 17 years old, or 16, I forget, all I could think of was my shame. My shame that I was not White. The shame of not having straight hair. The mortifying shame of not being athletic, not being able to play sports, not being able to be singled out first for a game during P.E. period I did not play hockey, or tennis (my mother got her Transvaal colours for tennis in high school).

I did not have blonde hair, and freckles on my face, forehead, knees, and the rest of my body. I did not have freckles in secret places.

But I learned quick, and I also learned very slowly that people don’t easily forgive, and forget if you live with a mental illness. This made me withdraw even more into my mute-self. For most of my life I lived like this with a mute voice inside of me until one day I began to write. I was 8 years old.

In later years cousins on both sides of the family despised me (because I was mentally ill). I could see it there in there eyes, as they did not meet my gaze whenever I spoke. Family despised me (because I was mentally ill). I was not invited to weddings, or kitchen teas. Women-fold women-folk kind of things. They despise you (this I told myself) because society despises lunatics, and for a long time I was happy encompassing whatever this word meant. Lunatic. It was me who was more in touch with reality than the ones who thought I was mad, I have come to accept this now. I have other much more important, and significant things on my mind, and I am about to begin to write my first novel. This is what moves me to write this for other people suffering in silence, people who are being told to pull their socks up (or that they ‘re beginning to be too big for their britches). Don’t live a half-life. Don’t live a half-lie.

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New Social Compact

Thoughts after reading Kiran Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss”

Abigail George

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You will experience happiness, I was the one who told myself this. No one else. The museum has invited me again to one of their lectures, but I never go. They will stop inviting, like they my father, one of these fine days, and then where will that leave me, and the fine museum built with my father’s hands. The South End Museum in Port Elizabeth, at the cusp of the Eastern Cape where in 1820 the English arrived. Sir Rufane Donkin who was to be the governor of the Cape (did he plunder, steal, rape, colonialise I thought to myself or was it kismet, fate, destiny written in the stars. Sir Donkin came with a mad wife in tow. Was she a Mrs Rochester, like me, like me, like me.

Bipolar, mosaic, atlas that it is, well for me it did the impossible with its overpowering (aplomb), uplifting gift that it gave me.

Sometimes the day itself is perfumed with good thoughts of T.S. Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Nabokov, the Russian writers, the Russian poets, the Russian masters, Isobel Dixon, Ingrid Jonker, Plath and Sexton. To me the women had superpowers, and the men, intelligence seeping through their every pore, I wanted them to talk to me, pull me into their arms and hug all my sadness, grief, loss, loneliness, frustration away from the secret chasms of my heart. I wanted them to lull and pull the self-pity that looped itself like cobwebs about my self-worth. Beautiful people, the beautiful women, that beautiful lady that was my mother that smelled just like Yves Saint Laurent’s Algeria, the beautiful men, seemed on the surface tension of things to get everything. They were rewarded. I was not.

I have this imperfect list of thoughts when I was reading Kiran Desai.

Oh, how I hope to be a respected and wonderful writer as she and Anuradha Roy is. Arundhati Roy, the writer of “The God of Small Things”. Sometimes I feel like a guardian, or rather a guardian angel when I write. I am hidden subtly, but also at the same time beyond opinion, and I also find that I am beyond caring for the approval of others. And by that of course I mean my sly and beautiful mother. Hair attractive as it falls about her face, hairpins/hair scarf/hair band loosened by her movements during the day and I try not to think of her telling me to make up my bed, or how they laugh at me, and look at me with this infuriating smile on their faces as if they know better.

Sometimes I think to myself who is the enemy now. Is it me, is it me who has to every year be put away for a week for my own good, to recover from ill health

I was sixteen years old when my mother dragged me to the Indian-looking psychiatrist who had studied in Vienna. And as I think back to that year I think of my identity coined now. That “term” on the inhale, and exhale of every breath that I take. That of a Khoi-female identity. Khoi-writer of prose, and poetry.

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