Thirteen Reflections On Marriage

The foundation of love is prayer (April 2015)

The foundation of love is prayer (April 2015)

Married in Johannesburg. Three years ago if you told me that that sentence would relate to me, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I met my husband two years ago, and though it’s hard to believe sometimes, by the Grace of God, we’ve been married for almost a year and a half now.

Most tellings of love stories stop with the words “and then they lived happily ever after” but in real life (vs reel life) it takes time to figure out what being married looks like and to learn how to share a life. This knowledge requires time, patience and the help of others. Today I found a draft post I wrote about marriage around the time of our one year anniversary, and thought as a means of self-reminding it would be helpful to post some of the things I’ve learned and continue to re-learn every day about marriage. 

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On Making A Difference in Math Education (Day 9 of ASRI)

A flag to be proud of (Constiutional Court, Joburg, February 2016)

A flag to be proud of (Constiutional Court, Joburg, February 2016)

It’s week three of ASRI and the theme of this week is “Civil society and NGOs”. Today began with a visit from CIVICUS, a global alliance of citizens and civil society groups striving to protect, enable and enhance civic action and civil society around the world. They are a membership network with 2100 members in 160 countries with partnerships with global regional, national and local CSOs, and I’m so grateful that they had time to speak to us. It’s been a while since my second year international relations classes; more recently most of my attention has gone to local poverty issues, but I thoroughly enjoyed their presentation and hearing them speak was inspiration and a reminder to follow international politics more closely. What surprised me most was how unaware I was in 2015 of international politics and their presentation was a great way to catch up on things I missed this year. I wish they had had more time to speak; they were so engaging that we all had lots of questions for them and they weren’t able to get through most of their presentation, but I still want to learn more.

Here are a few terms I learnt from their presentation:
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You Ask for Directions from Those Ahead of You (Day 5 of ASRI)


Constitutional Court of South Africa (April 2015)

Constitutional Court of South Africa (April 2015)

Today is a very brief blog post (yesterday was a busy evening!) but I did want to share reflections of Day 5 of ASRI nonetheless. Yesterday we began Week 2 of the program and the theme of this week is Government. The day started with a learning, building and growing session in the morning to share reflections of the program thus far, and because there was lots to reflect on, the session stretched to a two and a half hour conversation.

I learnt a lot from listening and learning from everyone’s perspectives and experiences but felt hesitant to speak, though I did share some reflections at the end of our chat. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if there was much I could add to the conversation, and because since the programme started, I’ve been having an internal conversation asking myself whether I should be speaking. A someone who isn’t South African and who is new to the country, should I contribute to our discussions about the history of South Africa and how we can create a more just and equitable society? Though I am trying to learn lots and my husband and I debrief about each day during tea chats at home every night, I don’t know a lot of the references, I don’t know the history of country well and  I/my biological family didn’t experience the effects of apartheid first-hand. For that reason, I am still trying to figure out what my role is in forming solutions and sharing my thoughts about the course content, and I’m wary about assuming too much space in discussion circles. It’s something I’m still thinking about because I don’t want to presume to have knowledges that I do not have.

Having said that, I find blogging is a nice space where i can unpack my thoughts a bit, and here are some thoughts from today:
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A Dose of Monthly Joy (Details On The April Bookclub)


(Natures Valley, South Africa, November 2015)

(Natures Valley, South Africa, November 2015)

This weekend was the February session of the Seriously Planning bookclub, and for the first time since the club started in Joburg, I didn’t finish reading the bookclub selection before we met to discuss the book. I’m still reading our February selection “On Being Muslim” and enjoying the book thoroughly so proper thoughts about the read to come later. Despite not having completed the book our discussion filled my heart with so much light. Our monthly chats are a source of joy and help me to be better at being me, something I find is true for reading in general, but something that is amplified when I’m talking about amazing books with incredible people. Yesterday our discussion was about faith, living Islam holistically, how our lives overall support or don’t support our religious lives, self – knowledge, listening and appreciating others, the importance of self esteem and what that actually looks like, having meaningful prayer in our lives, the importance of akhlaq (good character), traditional madrassa education, and the role of the Qur’an in our lives. It was wonderful, and I can’t wait till our next session.

We met at a restaurant called “My bread and butter” near Zoo Lake, and it was perfect for the bookclub. It’s a big open airy space with lots of light and beautiful wooden tables, and the food and drinks and cakes were delicious, and the staff was super friendly and polite.  And best of all, because it’s a big space it wasn’t loud at all, and we were able to talk and hear each other properly,

Our next bookclub selection is  “The Golden Son” by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.
Date: April 2nd 2016
Time: 10:00 am to 12pm
Where: Nice, 37 4th Avenue, corner 14th street, Parkhurst, 2193

To RSVP: Email

About the book: “Author of the bestselling Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s The Golden Son is about a young Indian doctor who leaves his village for a residency in the US. But he grapples with the expectation that as the oldest son, he is expected to inherit the mantle of arbiter for all village disputes. And he finds himself torn between a beautiful American girl and his old childhood friend..” (Via Amazon)

Wanting to catch up on old reads? Here is what we’ve read so far:

September: Journey of Discovery by Na’eem Jeenah and Shamima Shaikh
November: Ghana Must Go By Taiye Selasi
December: Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk
January: If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power
February: On Being Muslim by Farid Esack

Holding Multiple Colonial Histories in my Heart (Day 3 at the ASRI Future Leaders Programme)

The Struggle Continues (Constitutional Court, Johannesburg, April 2015)

The Struggle Continues (Constitutional Court, Johannesburg, April 2015)

Today was a heavy day. In the morning we visited the Constitutional Court and the Old Fort where prisoners were housed during apartheid and after lunch we visited Apartheid Museum in Gold Reef City. Over the past couple of days we’ve been learning about how law can be an instrument that enables justice and how the Constitution protects different rights, and today was a stark reminder of a time in which the law was used to exclude, punish and oppress non-whites and when there were no protected rights for the majority of South Africa’s people.

Today was my second visit to the Constitutional Court (the first time was an incredible tour that a dear friend set up for us during our wedding week that is still one of my favourite things that I’ve done in Johannesburg thus far) and my first visit to the different jails in the Old Fort Complex. It was difficult to see the different sections of the Old Fort and  to see where and how black men were jailed in solitary and group confinement, to see where white prisoners were housed (admittedly, much nicer areas) and to see the Women’s Jail. Though there are some offices in the Women’s Jail for organizations that work for gender justice, by and large the structures of the Old Fort have remained intact.

What made the tour so powerful was that we had a passionate and knowledgeable tour guide who helped us understand a bit of what the Old Fort was like for its prisoners. Whether it was listening to him and to the audio testimonials in the exhibits, or seeing the buildings or reading the displays, all of it was hard, but it was important to learn how white prisoners were treated very differently from black prisoners and the ways in which this differential treatment manifested in the prison system. Some of these ways included floggings for black prisoners and the use of carefully designed tools used to physically punish prisoners, beyond appalling sanitary conditions (for example thirty minutes was allotted for 2000 black prisoners to shower once a week, which effectively meant people could only shower every three or four months despite doing hard labour all day), daily stripping and violation of prisoners, no toilets for those in solitary confinement, latrines located close to where food was served, poor food and no treats (though at Christmas time white prisoners received a pound of pudding each). The cells of the prisoners who were kept in solitary confinement are still there, and we walked inside the cells, closed the doors and thought about how prisoners were left in their cells for twenty-three hours a day, and how solitary confinement could last from fifteen days to up to a year, with prisoners considered dangerous forced to wear chains. On the back of the doors you can see graffiti done by prisoners at the time, and seeing the cells made the injustice of the place even more tangible.

In the Women’s Jail we saw awful conditions as well and were shocked by how tiny the cells were for black women prisoners. We read stories of sexual violence and of women who asked for solitary confinement as respite from assault, heard and read stories of women who miscarried, learnt about how women did not have access to sanitary products and heard stories/saw signs about children that were born in the prison. We learnt that thousands of children were breastfed in prison. By the time we left the prison, I felt as though I couldn’t hear another story, hear of another oppressive act.

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Our Current Economic Policies Lead to High Unemployment (Day 2 at the ASRI Future Leaders Programme)

I woke up today thinking of Shonda Rhimes.  I am reading her book “The Year of Yes” as a library ebook, and at some point today – 20 something hours from now to be exact, whether I am done or not, the book will delete itself from my tablet. I am determined to finish. I peek at my book during breakfast, and  as we all eat lunch in a circle in the ASRI garden during our lunch break I sit with my tablet and read out passages to my husband. After work I rush indoors and sit in bed with pen, paper and my tablet unable to eat or chat except to read passages aloud until I am done reading. Afterwards I am exhilarated and emotionally spent from the read (Shonda is amazing, the book is fantastic and there are lots of life lessons that I need to ponder over further) and fall asleep very early in order to let my soul process what has just happened. Because of that I didn’t manage to blog properly about Day 2, but Shonda’s whole book was about saying yes to things that are scary and things that make your soul sing, and writing falls into both those categories. So before Day 3 starts, here are some quick reflections on our second day of the ASRI Future Leaders Programme.  On the whole, Day 2 was a wonderful, educational day with four different guest lectures who all further developed our knowledge of the Constitution and the impact of the law, and below are some of my (not comprehensive) take-aways from the day.

1) Our first speaker of the day was Mluleki Maronga from Section 27, “a public interest law centre that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect, promote and advance human rights.” Their name comes from Section 27 of the “South African Constitution which enshrines everyone’s right to health care, food, water and social security.” (Source: Section 27 Website) He was an engaging and interesting speaker, and one of the things he talked about was whether there is a difference between equality and substantive equality. There is, and we discussed how substantive equality is about bringing equality in tangible ways recognising that different groups have different levels of privilege and disadvantage. He quoted Mandela who said “We do not want bread without freedom, nor freedom without bread.” He also spoke about how it is important to know where we come from because only by understanding the location of pain can we focus our efforts on healing. Toward that end, he reminded us that South Africa comes from a history of “brutality and oppression” and that this oppression was manifest in at least three ways:

a) The Education System

  • South African had an act in 1953 called the Bantu Education Act that segregated schooling for black children, deemed the teaching of certain subjects unnecessary (for instance the teaching of math as a core subject) because the education system was designed for black students to simply take up what was seen as “their place in society”, and not designed to prepare them positions in the economy beyond what they were intended to take up.

b) Anti-black Urbanization

  • At the time of South Africa’s urbanization between 1904-1960, 80% of white people lived in cities versus only 32% of black people. It was a system of apartheid geography, and Mluleki read us a quote from the apartheid government saying “Cities are the white man’s creation. Black men may enter as long as he ministers to the white man’s needs, so long as he departs once he ceases to minster to those needs.” Aside from how that quote view black men, women are not mentioned at all and so you can see an erasure of women in the apartheid regime.

c) Land Dispossession

  • 87% of the population was on 13% of land during apartheid.

Other ways that this oppression manifested that came up in our discussion is through the economy (black people were unable to own means of production) and the health care system.

Hearing about these issues and our robust discussion of apartheid was a re-reminder that the impacts of apartheid can still be felt today and that in our own way, with the skills that we entered ASRI with and the skills we develop over the course of ASRI, it is so important that we contribute and do good work in society.

2) Our second speaker was Stuart Wilson, the Executive Director of SERI, or the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa. SERI is an non profit organization providing professional and dedicated socioeconomic rights and  assistance to individuals, communities and social movements in South Africa. If it is possible to have a crush on an organization I have one on SERI, and before the lecture when I looked up the organization I was amazed to see the range of work that they do. They do work on themes like housing and eviction, access to basic service, and political space and have a range of wonderful guides on their site on topics that range from resisting eviction to community organizing, to informal trading, rental housing and more. Stuart Wilson spoke about the contemporary moment in South Africa being characterized by fracture, and spoke about five or six of these fractures that exist in our societies today. The fracture I found the most interesting was the economic fracture, and he spoke about how since apartheid, poverty in the country has reduced only very slightly. Grants have expanded, but actual poverty has reduced very very little. We were vying for Brazil for the most unequal society in the nineties, but since then Brazil has invested a great deal in social programs and inequality in Brazil has been steadily reducing.

To learn more about fracture he gave us a book reference to look up: South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of Politics by Julian Brown.

What was most interesting to talk about was that our economic framework is not designed to create jobs. South Africa has adopted the economic orthodoxy of Reagan and Thatcher, and despite public officials talking about high unemployment (in South Africa total unemployment is about 40%) the actual economic policies are meant to keep inflation down so that money retains its value. This is important for the very rich who have a great deal of money invested, but it does not create jobs. In fact, Margaret Thatcher was known to say that structural unmployment is a price worth paying to keep currency values up. Economists say that if inflation is below 20% (in South Africa it is well, well below that) the impact of inflation on the poor is very little, but it has a significant impact on the very rich because the value of their money decreases. When inflation is low interest is high, which makes it harder to borrow money. It makes it harder to spend money, it makes it harder to entrepreneurs to take risks, and the overall result is that high interest makes it difficult to generate economic growth. It hurts entrepeneurship and it has an effect on employment. (We also talked about low tariffs make it difficult to develop new industries, and South Africa has very very low tariffs, but that’s a conversation for another day)

This is all perhaps familiar if you took macroeconomics in school. What struck me afresh yesterday (perhaps it was the way he was explaining it because he really was a fantastic lecturer) though is that I’ve spent lots of time this year looking at immigration policies and South African visas, and the basis of  work restrictions of non South Africans (and especially spouses of South Africans) is based on the premise that there is high unemployment in the country, and so before any employer can hire a non South African, there is elaborate paperwork and steps required to prove that no other South African can do that job. And once that happens visas need to be applied for from one’s home country. To realize that the entire economic policies of the country are stifling employment is surprising, and makes these work restrictions and visa rules make even less sense than they did before. It also made me really want to strengthen my policy making skills as the public policy courses I took in my Masters and undergrad were a while ago, and knowing how to make evidence based policies seems like a good skill.

Our last two speakers were Michael Power from the African Legal Centre who spoke about working with communities and starting an NGO, and Jacob van Garderer from Lawyers from Human Rights who spoke about the work of LHR and the work of lawyers during the apartheid regime and how the law was used creatively as a tool of resistance.





On Embracing the New (Day 1 at the ASRI Future Leaders Programme)

Embracing the Unexpected (Feb 2015)

Embracing the Unexpected (Feb 2015)

Having a library card and being engaged in interesting work are two of the things I need to make a place home. In September 2015, I got my Joburg library card and today was my first day at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI for short), a pluralist domestic public policy institute based in Johannesburg. Along with 29 other fellows, I’m taking part in the ASRI Future Leaders Fellowship Programme, a six month program aimed at “producing effective and innovative change agents who can bring about transformative change in South African society”. 2016 is the first year of the Fellowship Programme and I’m so excited for the learning and growth that God-willing, will take place over the next six months. The theme for Week 1 is Law and Justice and Day 1 was a wonderful and interesting introduction and overview of the South African Constitution. We were graced by a visit from Janet Love, the National Director of the Legal Resources Centre (and overall rockstar) and Richard Chemaly of Pro The LRC is South Africa’s largest public interest human rights law clinic, and Janet Love’s remarks on justice, law, and the process of writing the Constitution were thought provoking and inspiring. After lunch, Richard Chemaly did a workshop that was a closer examination of the Constitution and an overview of rights theory, the Bill of Rights, and Section 9 Institutions ( An example of a Section 9 Institution is the South Africa Human Rights Commission, or the Public Protector.) I now have a purse-sized copy of the Bill of Rights which feels very exciting, and I’m glad that we got a chance to look at it closely with him.

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Seriously Planning December (Durban and Joburg)

Favourite Cakes (Joburg, 2015) Photo Credit: KP of

Favourite Cakes (Joburg, 2015) Photo Credit: KP of

It’s time to meet. Seriously Planning is doing three events this December (including one in Durban!) and in a city where it can sometimes feel hard to make new friends, book gatherings are the perfect way to do exactly that. The Literary Love event we are doing in Durban and Joburg is an event I did in Toronto last year (it was called an Idea Steep) and despite the freezing temperatures, the event was one of the loveliest things I’ve ever attended in Toronto. In a small circle of friends, we talked about books and had incredible chocolate, gelato and Spicy Mayan Hot Chocolate at Soma Chocolatemaker. I’d love to say goodbye to 2015 in the same way. As always, please do email so I know you’re coming.

1) Seriously Planning Bookclub – December 8th 2015, Cafe Europa, Rosebank, Joburg, 6 – 8pm

Do you love books, cities and vibrant conversation? Join the Seriously Planning Bookclub. The bookclub meets monthly, and it is an amazing way to read more and build community at the same time.

This month’s selection is “Istanbul: Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk.

To participate:
1) Sign up by emailing
2) Read the book in advance of the date
3) Attend!

2) Find Literary Love in 2016 – Dec 17th 2015, Love Coffee, Durban,  3:30 pm – 5 pm

Share stories over brunch about your favourite reads of 2015. What books did you fall in love with this year? What did you enjoy? How did what you read in 2015 change you? Share your stories, listen to the experiences of others and come away with book titles you’d like to try out in the new year. And if you’re willing to lend out a book of yours to a participant, bring your books along with!

To participate:
1) Sign up by emailing

3) Find Literary Love in 2016 – Dec 23rd 2015, Tortellino D’Oro, Joburg, 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

This event is a chance to share stories over gelato about your favourite reads of 2015. What books did you fall in love with this year? What did you enjoy? How did what you read in 2015 change you? Share your stories, listen to the experiences of others and come away with book titles you’d like to try out in the new year. And if you’re willing to lend out a book of yours bring your books along with you.


Marriage is Walking Together (On Reading the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)

Marriage is Walking Together (Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town, May 2015)

Marriage is Walking Together (Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town, May 2015)

You’d think walking should be the simplest thing,’ she said at last. ‘ Just a question of putting one foot in front of the other. But it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are.’
She wet her lower lip with her tongue, waiting for more words.
‘Eating,’ she said at last. That’s another one. Some people have real difficulties with that one. Talking too. Even loving. They can all be difficult.’ (The Unlikely Journey of Harold Fry, p.52)

When I am upset, walking makes me feel better. During the three years I lived in Toronto I always lived downtown, and with the well-lit streets, the heavy pedestrian traffic, and the wide pavements, I always felt comfortable enough to walk. Toronto is a city meant for walking, and walking and public transit were how I moved about the city. Even in the evening when the temperatures were cold, when my thoughts felt knotted or I had had an argument, walking would help me feel sorted again. Joburg is not a very walkable city though, and while it is possible to go somewhere to walk (a field near the gym, or a specific spot to walk for instance) it is not the same as putting your shoes on and walking to where you need to go. I knew I missed it, but hadn’t realized how much until this week. I’m in the Western Cape and it has been glorious to walk for hours on the beach each morning and to be surrounded by ocean, mountains, greenery and white sand without a single soul about. Surrounded by such majesty, I have felt like a tiny speck in the universe, and the things that worry me and preoccupy my thoughts in Joburg have melted away.

Today when I got tired of walking, I sat on the beach, listened to the sound of churning, foaming waves and read a delightful book called “The  Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, about walking and marriage and heartbreak and being human. It was the perfect accompaniment to my morning of movement. The book is about a sixty-five year old man named Harold who has been married to his wife Maureen for the last forty-seven years, and begins with Harold and Maureen having breakfast and Maureen reprimanding Harold about jam. While eating his breakfast, Harold receives a letter from a woman named Queenie Hennessy who worked with Harold twenty years previously, and whom he hasn’t heard from since. She is dying from cancer and has written to say goodbye. Harold writes her a note in response, goes to the mailbox to post it, and passing the postbox, keeps on going. He doesn’t stop, and when he’s hungry he stops at a garage for a burger where he meets a girl who inspires him to walk to Queenie in Berwick – Upon – Tweed to help Queenie live. Despite the fact that that is not how cancer works, and that the distance is more than 500 miles, Harold keeps going. He isn’t fit, he doesn’t have the right shoes (he is wearing yachting shoes), or a change of clothes, or a mobile phone, or even a bag for that matter (he only has a plastic bag), but still, Harold presses on. His chances of success are unlikely and he should go home, but he doesn’t. His wife Maureen is startled, and then irritated, and then misses him dreadfully, and this book is about his journey and how it changes him, those closest to him and in turn changes the world. It is a marvellous, marvellous read, and after I was done I sat in silence, the book and characters still with me, and tried to absorb the lessons of the book into my being. Here are some of the things that I took away from the read.

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On Reading “One Plus One” by Jojo Moyes

Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town (May 2015)

Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town (May 2015)

Sometimes you just want the comfort of a good story. You might be at the beach when you need such a book, or on holiday in general, or perhaps sick in bed with the flu, but certain occasions demand cosy books. I’m away from Joburg at present, and yesterday I started and finished Jojo Moyes book “One plus One”. It’s a wonderful read about a 27-year old woman named Jess who is the mother of two kids: ten year old Tanzie (Constanza) and teenager Nicky, the son of her husband and his ex. Jess’s husband left two years ago, and in that time she has been struggling to keep her family together by working at a local bar and as a cleaner.

The plot of the novel revolves around Jess’s family struggle to make more of themselves. Jess’s daughter’s Tanzie is a math prodigy, and her local math teacher thinks she could attend an excellent private school in the area called St Anne’s. There is no way that they could afford such fees, but because of Tanzie’s abilities the school is willing to offer a 90% scholarship, the most generous scholarship they have ever offered. The 10% outstanding is still a formidable barrier however, so when Tanzie’s math teacher lets Jess know about a Math Olympiad in Scotland with a five thousand dollar first prize, she decides to drive her family to Scotland for the competition. The problem is that Jess has no insurance, the car (her husband’s) that she wants to drive is rusting, and she has little driving experience.

Help arrives however in the form of a man named Ed Nicholls, a man who is one of Jess’s cleaning clients and who is being investigated for accidentally getting involved in insider trading. He is at risk of losing everything he has, and their lives intersect one day when Jess helps him get home from the bar which she works. He doesn’t remember her getting him home, but he does remember Jess telling him that she is upset with him for offending her/treating her badly one afternoon when she was cleaning his house. Her words stay with him, and when he sees her at the side of the road with the car her children and a policeman, without quite knowing why, he decides to stop and offer them a lift to Scotland. The book revolves around their journey there, and they both learn and grow from one another through their travels and experiences together. Here are a few things that I enjoyed/took away from the book.

1)No Time for Judgement

This story is told from the perspective of different characters, and each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person, sometimes the kids, and sometimes Ed or Jess. I like this narrative technique and enjoyed how the same event was related by two of three different characters who were experiencing, reacting to, and/or observing the same event. Through the way this story is told, as a reader you are reminded that there is no one version of events, and no one correct version of personal histories. In this story there are also no good or bad characters, only flawed characters in shades of grey. Which is not to say that there is no morality, the characters in this book have principles and values, but the book does highlight the point that you don’t know how you would respond to a situation until you are faced with the same pressures and events as someone else.

2) We Need to be in Diverse Company

This book also addresses issues of class. Jess is struggling to survive, and she understands money in a very different way from Ed. Their definitions of being rich and wealthy are different. The costs that matter to them are different. For instance, there is a scene in the book when Ed describes a cashless transaction system his company has developed that banks and retailers love and that charges consumers with a minor cost to each transaction that is “basically nothing”. Jess in return describes what such transaction costs would translate to in her daily life over the course of the year. This book is a reminder that we learn when we are in gatherings and communities with a diversity of experiences.

3) The past matters

Because she knew that something happened to you when your mother didn’t hold you close, or tell your all the time that you were the best thing ever, or even notice when you were home: a little part of you sealed over. You didn’t need her. You didn’t need anyone. And without even knowing you were doing it, you waited. You waited for anyone who got close to you to see something they didn’t like in you, something they hadn’t seen initially, and to grow cold and disappear too, like too much sea mist. Because there had to be something wrong, didn’t there, if even your own mother didn’t really love you?” (One Plus One, p. 255)

“It was true that Nicky didn’t talk much. It wasn’t that he didn’t have things to say. It was just that there was nobody he really wanted to say it to. Ever since he had gone to live with Dad and Jess, when he was eight, people had been trying to get him to talk about his “feelings” like there were a a big rucksack he could just drag around with him and open up for everyone to examine its contents. But half the time he didn’t know what he thought. He didn’t have opinions about politics or the economy or what happened to him. ” (One Plus One, p.332)
This book is about a family trying to get ahead and make more of themselves. It is about their attempt to help Tanzie be herself and study math in the way that she wants. But at the same time, it shows how the past shapes how you are at present. Nicky’s mother left him, and among other things, that experience has shaped the way he communicates with others, how he lets people in, and how he is open in personal relationships. Jess does not want to seem like someone who is taking advantage of help, and so she protests everything that Ed does, attempts to sleep in the car over the course of the trip, makes sandwiches throughout using ingredients on special, and finds it hard (though such a relief) to accept help. This book shows how the past impacts us, but it does not suggest that the past allows for no alternate ways of being in the future. Instead, this book is an exploration of how our encounters and experiences with others allow us to grow and develop and become more than we could if we were apart.

4) Interdependence and Community 

This book highlights how exhausting it is being alone and trying to manage all facets of your life, your finances, your work, your family, your health, everything is on you when you are the solo head of your household. Reading Jess’s story reminded me of my work with the United Way in the Lower Mainland and in Toronto, and exercises we did to highlight the experience of being in precarious work and having a low income. In the exercises we did, we could see that the expenses we had greater than our needs, and how in such circumstances, every day and week, decisions are made and tradeoffs are made about how to spend/not spend one’s salary. In this book, Jess is in debt, and she pays the electricity bill with the rent money, the rent money with something else, and leaves certain bills unpaid. There is no room for all the needs, and certainly no room for luxuries. And when unexpected events occur and unexpected expenses are the result, there are no savings in this story to draw upon.

This book is a fiction work but the experiences of Jess are real. This book was a reminder that we need to support others in our community whether it is through advice or time or acts of service (and I would add, through supporting social agencies). When I was in Canada, supporting the United Way was a way to support an incredible network of social agencies, but I’m still learning about the social landscape here in South Africa.  It’s not enough to say that “poor people must work hard and get ahead” this book illustrates that poverty requires intense hard work to stay barely afloat, and that without help, family transformation is near impossible. Not having the resource of a car, not being able to take time off to do something needed, not being able to take further courses, all of these are structural barriers to getting out of poverty, and require community support to overcome.