The Frenemy

VANESSA SMEETS

Ever have that one “friend” you dread adding on Facebook, because you know she’ll constantly be watching and criticizing your every move? She’s known as the “Fakebooker” (more of an acquaintance than a friend), but she’s not the only species of ‘Frenemy’ you will come across in your lifetime. Here are the others:

Frenemy 1The Boyfriend Flirter

In front of you, she tells how gross your boyfriend is in comparison to hers or, even worse, your exes. Everything he says or does seems to annoy her, but behind your back she loves sending him funny emails, meeting up for coffee to discuss… you. Yeah right. Move on, b*tch.

The Friend Thief

She’s back from her incredible adventures overseas and can’t seem to find new friends on her own, so she now backpacks on your back wherever you go. She organizes events where everyone you know without you is invited. She doesn’t care and neither should you.

Frenemy 2The Expired Cool Girl

At school, you were both the head of this and that and yet you still found time for each other, but then she became headgirl and all that changed… she just didn’t know you anymore. Really? What kind of make-up can hide such a two-faced chick? None. Walk away.

The Wannabe

She knows you’re a great networker, so she invites you to all her open events so that you can invite everyone you know. Looks may attract, but it’s personality that keeps, darling. Nothing can hide the fact she’s using you.

Frenemy 4The Whiner

She calls you whenever she loses a job or a man. You go over and comfort her. She never asks how your day was. When you break-up with your man of four years, she’s suddenly too busy. Cry me a river, she’s an alligator with fake tears.

The Hot-Headed Heels

Frenemy 3

PIC: Internet

She’s like the Samantha from Sex and the City of your group, she always boasts about how many men want to bed her and how her boss sends her saucy, encrypted texts. She makes all your lives feel totally bland in comparison. Truth is, her life is empty and nothing you do will help her feel better about herself or you. Goodbye, Sam. I’ll save you for a rainy day.

The Casper

Yup, she’s the friendly ghost of your past. You think that because you’ve known each other for two decades, you’re obligated to keep her in your life. Yes, she shows up once a year for your birthday, but how do you catch up 365 days in a few hours? You can’t, because she happens to be the first one to leave your party. Time to call in the ghost-busters. De-clutter your life before your party.

friends

PIC: Internet

Happiness is…

VANESSA SMEETS

For years, I searched far and wide for happiness.
The greatest poets and creative people have spoken of it as an illusion or the ultimate tease, being short-lived and unfulfilling. Walt Disney claimed it’s the way one looks at things. William Shakespeare referred to it as good friends. AA Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, referred to it as the secret to all beauty. For many, it comes in four states of being, which I believe could be seen as four seasons: euphoria, bliss, joy, and contentment.

Euphoria: where everything seems to be floating and unreal, your senses are overcome much like in spring.
Bliss: where everything seems almost too perfect to be true. Your body and heart are one, much like in summer.
Joy: where everything still seems beautiful, just like the colours of autumn.
Contentment: where you hold on to the other three, but will have to do with the warmth provided, much like in winter.

But, what does it mean to me? Because that’s what Incitement is about: my story, our story. (For more on Incitement SA, see my previous article: There is HOPE!)

childhood_quote

FREEDOM: The magic of childhood should not be forgotten in adulthood… PIC: Internet

My seasonal journey with happiness has been complex, sometimes raining with splendor, other times hard to harvest.
I first discovered it as a small child from simple things: setting dragonflies and butterflies free in the kitchen, catching grasshoppers in the garden and feeling them tickle my skin, watching my parents kiss, playing with Barbies for hours on end. Yes, I’ve always been a romantic and that is where my disillusionment with happiness was born.

This is quite personal, but I believe many of us have been through it…
As someone who struggled with clinical depression for almost ten years, I am finally free of it. No, it was not through fancy medication or hours at the psychiatrist. If anything, those things worsened my state of being. The meds poisoned my body, to the verge of becoming a diabetic and the shrink poisoned my soul by opening old wounds. I had forgiven. I didn’t need to be reminded of my past regrets and hurt.

Faith_quote

FAITH: Balancing faith against your fears will push you forward. PIC: RobinSharma.com

Happiness is the ability to balance what you have with what you need, appreciating those special moments. I learnt this best as a preschool teacher. Children have the ability to be creative, even when their little heads and hearts are in disjoint. A child will continue to smile, even if things at home aren’t easy. They believe in the power of daily life – every day is a magical reason to wake up, discover your surroundings and explore your needs.

As adults, we forget the essence of imagination. We forget to discover daily power and magic. We keep diaries of our daily struggles, instead of your daily triumphs. And we forget to spend time with children, who teach us to see through new eyes. I’ve always believed children are the world’s greatest teachers.

child_southAfrica

THE KEY: Children are not only the future, but the world’s greatest teachers. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

I discovered a whole new world as a preschool teacher: one where killed spiders are given funerals, where storms are caused by an angry creator and where friendship is about listening and sharing, even if that means your favourite sandwich.

Children, not pills, healed my heartache. Originally, I studied journalism. I was determined to become a war photographer. But teaching taught me to focus on life, rather than death. And the war within myself was finally put to rest. So the trick is to BELIEVE, in yourself, in your dreams, in others, in their dreams. Clichéd but true: what a difference this makes.

For the parents out there, I urge you to write down the beautiful things you witness on a daily basis with your child. Get involved with your child’s preschool: “What did he/ she get up to today?”

Happiness is obeying your bliss, even if it comes from ridiculous sounding things like a fresh smoothie, a yoga session you’ve been avoiding or an afternoon in the botanical gardens. Unhappy people are those that don’t know what they want out of life. They have little focus on where they are going. They keep looking back on past mistakes, instead of embracing today’s beauty. Every sunset should be seen as unique. Every stranger on the street has a story to share.

These are my tips for a state of happiness every day:

euphoria_spring

Euphoria, like spring, is the overwhelming beauty of one’s life reawakening. PIC: Internet

EUPHORIA:

  • Start a random conversation with a stranger, such as a person who sells you a newspaper, hands out a flyer. If everyone listened with more patience, we’d have more interesting days.
  • Put away your phone and Facebook for a whole day. Make face-to-face conversation with a person you haven’t seen in a long time. The power of touch is one which can heal.
bliss_summer

Bliss is like summer, when mind, body, heart and soul beat as one. PIC: Internet

BLISS:

  • Listen to the way a small child speaks to their pet. If everyone spoke with such kindness, we’d have many more friends.
  • Draw. Paint. Sing. Dance. Do something you normally never have time to do, yet enjoy. It will rejuvenate your soul.
joy_autumn

Much like autumn, joy is an array of beautiful colours that envelop the soul. PIC: Internet

JOY:

  • Arrange a coffee-date with your parents and grandparents. Listen to stories of their youth and their search for happiness before it’s too late.
  • Hold your pet for a good hour, cuddle it… That is the only creature that never judges you, criticizes you; despite giving it the same food every day and the same lame excuse “I’ll play with you tomorrow”.
contentment_winter

Much like winter, contentment is loving the warmth of what we knew… PIC: Internet

CONTENTMENT:

  • Fall in love with your life again… Seek that dream job and those fun friends. Reawaken your inner being. A wise friend once told me: “Don’t walk away from negativity. RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”
  • Meditate on the previous seasons.

Happiness should never be searched for. That goes against its aim. It finds you when you least expect it, much like love and peace. And I do believe those three work hand-in-hand. You cannot be truly happy without love or peace. And what is love or peace without happiness? Go on then, dream some more. Live for eternity.

god's four gifts

BLESSINGS: The essence of life… PIC: Internet

Forbidden Fruit

VANESSA SMEETS

“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable,”
Mark Twain

Forbidden fruit

TEMPTATION: Eve's undeniable hunger for the forbidden continues in modern women of today, through dangerous and flirtatious friendships and relationships. PIC: online

For years, he’s been your best friend.
You call him every time you’re sad, sick or have just broken up with someone.
For years, he’s called you to go for a beer, a movie or a spontaneous road-trip.
He makes you smile, laugh and feel like the most special girl in the room. That is until he starts dating that girl from work and is really serious about her.
“I think she may be the one…” he tells you a month later.

Another month later, they go on a two-week holiday. During that time, you can’t help but think of him constantly:
Is she worthy of him?
Will he still have time for us?
Do I need to see him less now?
Do I have to become her friend too?

The thinking turns into missing. He returns from his trip, but doesn’t call you immediately.
A few days later, he lets you know he’s back. You feel hurt. The difference has already begun.

The new happy couple invites you for supper. You suddenly realise how lonely you really are. They touch. They hug. They kiss. You feel terribly uncomfortable, but why?
What is this irritating nagging feeling that won’t go away… Is it jealousy?
What is this gaping hole that deepens with every silent passing day… Is it longing or, even more complex, love?

You try to concentrate on your other friends, but everyone can’t stop talking about the “amazing new girlfriend.” The label sticks for weeks, months, a year… and it hurts you more and more.
Why can’t I just be happy for him? Why do I find myself constantly thinking about our time together?
It finally hits you: I HAVE FALLEN FOR MY CLOSEST FRIEND!
Were we that… were we a couple without ever placing that damn label?
Did the innocent touch of his hand to reassure me after every heart-break mean something more?

“Of man’s first disobedience…the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
brought death into the world and all our woes,” John Milton, Paradise Lost

friendship?

MIND OVER HEART: Is it possible to just be friends with the opposite sex? Or does that hint of attraction make it even more seductive...? PIC: Online

You decide to find out and confront him.
“Shaun, I’m really worried about our friendship… I don’t see you as much.”
“Judy, I have a girlfriend now. It’s totally normal.”
“Yeah, but…umm…we only go for coffee once a week.”
“At least it’s once a week. What’s the big deal? You’ve been in the dating game in the 10 years of our friendship. Did I complain once?”
“I guess not. I’m just concerned. You’re acting differently towards me.”
“Listen, enough of this. Sally is pretty concerned about all the time we spend together. Once a week is quite enough.”
“Enough? We used to spend every day together.”
“That was in the past.”
“So… I can’t be part of your present…or future?”
“Why are you talking like this? What are you getting at?”
“I think… I know… I miss you…”
“I have to go. I’ll call you next week sometime.”

The week passes and it’s the longest week of your life. He never calls.
A few months later, you call him and it’s constantly engaged. Sh*t, HE’S ENGAGED!
He never bothered telling you. The invitation arrives: You are happily invited to bless Shaun and Sally on their new journey.
“Bless it? Is this what I’m supposed to do when I curse the day they met? Do I have to give my blessing every time they decide to have a baby?”

Your head spins. You decide to tell Sally how you feel.
“Sally, I need to know how you feel about Shaun.”
“I love him.”
“I know that, but how do you feel?”
“Happy. He makes me happy.”
“So, happiness is a good enough reason to rush into marriage?”
“We’ve been together for a year and a half.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve known him for 10 years.”
“What are you getting at, Judy?”
“Is Shaun happy? Is this what he wants?”
“You should ask him that. But, yes, I believe he is. He’s finally moved on.”
“Moved on?”
“You really hurt him in the past; how you compared ex after ex, when the man truly in love with you was standing right there.”
“He’s in love with me?”
“Was. He’s assured me it’s over.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Umm… I’m not sure if you still want to come to the wedding.”
“That’s probably not a good idea. I should escape, get away from all this.”
“We like you, Judy. Don’t do something that drastic. You still mean a lot to Shaun.”
“I can’t. I can’t…. Oh my G…”

“While forbidden fruit is said to taste sweeter, it usually spoils faster…” Abigail van Buren

You don’t go to the wedding. And, surely, nine months later Sally gives birth to a honeymoon baby.
Shaun calls you: “I want you to be the Godmother. Jayden will need you in his life the way I needed you. I know you’ll be there to comfort him, advise him, show him the magic in life.”
You accept. Your love for Shaun fades the more you see the three of them together.

Sally was right: he’s really happy. You focus all the love you had on Jayden now. Shaun remains forbidden fruit. His ripe season was simply not the same as yours. Seasons continue to come and go; yet he remains firmly attached to his family. You finally walk away from the person you shared the same fears and memories with. The first rays of summer dance upon your skin; it is harvest time elsewhere. 

forbidden_fruit body

DESIRABLE: The more innocent the touch, the more there is to explore. PIC: Online

Forbidden Fruit Situations:

  • You study together. Starting something while studying may seem like the perfect way to balance work and fun. It may also cause you to stop concentrating, fail or drop out if it ends sourly. If he’s messing with you, what’s stopping him from tasting the other girls in the class?
  • You work together. There are highs in mixing business with pleasure: a secret rendez-vouz in the photocopying room now and then, gentle kisses in the bathroom. But, there are even more extreme lows: disapproval and gossip by colleagues, complexity when breaking up or sexual harassment charges.
  • Different religions. As much as you may love each other, your in-laws may be at constant loggerheads about marriage, the home and raising the children.
  • He’s your boss. No! No! Someone wise once told me: “Don’t sh*t where you eat!”
  • You’re blood-family. Come on, seriously? Only Jerry Springer made a living out of this…
  • You live on different sides of the world. Some argue long-distance is romantic, adventurous and fun, it is also an extreme test on your energy levels of jealousy, trust and creativity. How much passion do you have to keep it all going?

Bad bad boys

VANESSA SMEETS

James Dean bad boy

SMOKING HOT: Yip, the ultimate "bad boy" makes you feel smoking hot, only to burn you in the end. PIC: online

At 25, I’ve witnessed dozens of heartbreaks: some my own, some my friends. It all begins in childhood with your “first love:”
At age 10, you suddenly realize you really like your best friend. You hang out all the time. You laugh at all his jokes, even the corny ones.
At age 13, you start wearing make-up in hope he’ll notice you.
At age 16, you have your first drink in hope you’ll lose all inhibitions and finally tell him how you feel. Too late. He ends up making out with one of your good friends and they date till varsity.
In the years apart, he hardly talks to you, as she feels threatened by your friendship. One day, he calls you in the middle of the night: “I made a mistake… I cheated on her.”
You give him the usual advice on honesty and love: “Don’t worry, be honest. Tell her what happened.” She breaks it off before he gets the chance. He calls you now, night after night, in a drunken stupor:

“You’re the only one that truly knows me. I…. I….”

gaspard Ulliel naked truth

NAKED TRUTH: Could you ever be happy with a bad boy as hot as Gaspard Ulliel? Maybe it's time to rethink the long-term effects of living on the edge: unnecessary stress, hassle and heartbreak. PIC: Online

The phone suddenly hangs up. He’s been in a terrible car accident. Luckily, he survives and for days you visit him relentlessly. Your heart breaks to see him so vulnerable and in so much pain.
His eyes open but he has no idea who you are anymore. Maybe he heard your crying or gentle words of love and comfort while he was in a coma.
Okay, this story seems a little over-the-top, yet isn’t this what most girls go through? For years, we try getting the attention of the one guy that made us feel special (even just once). You dote on his achievements, his girlfriends, and his mistakes, only to be told years later that it was all in vain.

At age 18, it’s your Matric Dance/ Prom and you sadly realize he’s going with “her” despite the promise you guys made to each other years ago… Instead, you go on a blind date with your dentist’s son or, God forbid, your distant cousin.
All night, you watch him in the arms of that other girl. That other girl who has no idea why he has a scar above his left eye or what music makes him laugh or tick. They kiss at midnight. You watch and lose yourself in the infatuation that one day it will be you.
At varsity, you finally let go and fall for the bad boy who never comes to class, but always asks for your notes.

“I really need a private tutor,” he tells you with a charming smile.

One guyYou stay late to help him out. Alone in the library, he tries to kiss you. What the hell… You go for it. The next time he finally turns up in class, but completely ignores you.
You go out with your girlfriends and swear you’ll never fall for someone again, yet you end up reminiscing on your childhood sweethearts most of the night. Some have gone bald. Some are fathers. Some have escaped the country in hope of something better.
“Escape,” such a beautiful word. Just as you wonder what happened to your childhood friend, he appears out of nowhere: “Hey beautiful! Remember me? Remember us?”
There’s a slight teasing in his voice that makes you feel uncomfortable. His friends join your friends, happily chatting away; but you two have absolutely nothing to say to each other.

In fact, all you want and need to say is FORBIDDEN TERRITORY:

“I loved you for years and never said a word. I watched you break a dozen hearts, including my own. And now all I have to say is I HATE YOU for wanting my heart, getting it and throwing it away over and over again.”

It’s a question that has bedazzled scientists, psychologists and Sex & the City junkies for years:

Why do women fall for the wrong type?

  • He’s exciting. Fantasizing about someone unattainable is as hot as a night out with a complete stranger. The fantasy out-does the reality no matter what.
  • He’s a natural high. You know you can’t have him, yet watching him and even slightly touching him gets you high.
  • He’s the perfect escape. You’ll always have something to talk about with your girlfriends: how cute he is, who’s his new flame, do you still have a chance…

Cartoon bad boysSorry, ladies, but this guy you claim to love and talk about is a complete waste of time. In the words of Marilyn Monroe: if he didn’t appreciate you in the worst of times, he certainly won’t appreciate you in the best of times.
You’ll just be that girl he can booty-call, have virtual sex with whenever he feels like it or turns to for obvious advice, but completely ignores in real life. Really now? What about that guy you’ve been teasing for years, always turn to and yet ignore when he gets too close? It sucks to be in his place, doesn’t it? Time to break your fantasy and finally unbreak your heart.

There’s no place for you when it comes to you and the bad bad boy’s ego.

The value of LIFE in Zimbabwe

LESS THAN TOILET PAPER: In 2007, the Zimbabwean dollar was more worthless than toilet paper. Today, the American dollar is in use. COURTESY: online

VANESSA SMEETS

As a child, I valued all living things. I would collect crickets and dragonflies in the kitchen and set them free in the garden. As I grew up, those small things transformed into valuable assets: the values of patience, integrity, honesty, courage, kindness and forgiveness.

During the June holidays, I was on my way to Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, after living in South Africa for the last 20 years. It was time to go back to the garden filled with those noisy crickets.

Patience

The plane takes off from Johannesburg an hour late. My brother and I wait patiently, knowing our dad has been expecting us for the last three hours.

In Harare, we are greeted with sour faces: “Why are you here? What do you want?” At R300 or $30 US (the country has decided its own exchange rate), we finally get our Visas. I have to swallow my pride and smile gratefully for the tattered pink Visa in my passport. Welcome home.

COUNTRY IN DISTRESS: A collage of what once made up one of the most powerful countries in Africa. COURTESY: online

 

Integrity

At church, a farmer tells his incredible story of loss and betrayal. John Miller* almost lost his life after debating with ZANU-PF militants on his farm. The room fills up with tears.

He is the epitome of courage. “What man intends for evil, God intends for good,” he tells us. “You can choose to flee, forgive or forget.”

I decide to forgive the nasty people at the airport. I decide to forget my dad shouting at pedestrians, as we were late for church. I decide to flee my negative thoughts of my documentary not going as planned.

While my Journalism classmates are celebrating the festivities of the World Cup in South Africa, I wanted to focus on “life after independence” in a forgotten paradise.

There’s magic in Zimbabwe. Some describe it as extreme spirituality. The Shona people are known for praying for rain. It symbolizes hope. For many, the red dust of Zimbabwe settles at their ankles. It stopped raining thirty years ago. Their integrity and strength remain intact. It will rain again.

1980 was filled with the promises of a new government that would benefit all people. Today, Zimbabwe has no currency of its own, with thousands of people still struggling to buy food. The American dollar is a luxury few can afford.

Courage

John’s story inspires me to start working. A woman and her two children have been squatting outside my dad’s house on the street for the last month. I’m not sure how to approach her. My video camera is hidden in my coat’s pocket.

It takes a lot of courage for us to start talking. She stutters as I ask her name. I look deep into her eyes. Somewhere beyond the pain of raising four children on her own (two of them are home alone), I want to get to know her.

Esther is my age. But unlike me, she has never gone to school. She has never gone a day without being hungry. Instead, she fell pregnant at 15. She can’t work because her four-month old baby cries constantly. It has been sun burnt by weeks of standing on the side of the street attached to its nine-year old sister.

The little girl comforts the crying baby. She dances between the cars. Her mother doesn’t flinch. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I ask, pointing at a car hooting for them to get out of the way. “Yes,” she whispers, “But they know I have many mouths to feed.”

Honesty

VALUE OF MONEY: 100 billion dollars was equivalent to three eggs at a stage. COURTESY: online

I tell Esther I need to film her. At first, it is awkward. She can’t look at me in the eyes anymore. But, her child is fascinated with being on film. She smiles, laughs and shows off her pretty but dirty dress.

As the little girl walks away, another man appears. Edson is a street vendor and Esther’s friend. They met on the corner of the road. “If I have bread, I will share with her,” he tells me, “But life is hard. I cannot feed her every day. Business is slow.”

He disappears into the cars as the traffic increases. People are rushing home, but his colourful stock of balloons continues to hang on to his arms. He has incredible patience. A Mercedes stops and buys one. He smiles and waves at me.

His honesty is made apparent when he warns me: “The police are here. They saw you filming us.” I hide my camera. If Edson hadn’t warned me, the government’s police would have erased all my film. They hate journalists.

Kindness and forgiveness

In the house, I gather up avocadoes and juice for Esther and Edson. Their kindness has made me realize how insignificant my problems really are.

These people choose to endure, rather than fight. Every day is about survival of their families, not themselves. Life for them is not about the value of money, but the value of food.

Life for them is also not about the value of politics, but the value of listening. There is healing in listening to each other’s pain. We have all suffered under this regime.

There is value in forgiveness. There is value in hope.

John’s words haunt my mind: “I’d rather forgive than flee. You cannot flee your own hatred. Hatred is like drinking from a poisoned chalice hoping your enemy will suffer.”

Zimbabwe’s people have suffered enough. There is value in sharing their tale with all those who read this.

*name has been changed