Tag Archives: south africa

Barclays! Nowt Wrong With a Bit of Chest-Staring!

24 Sep

I was a bit gutted to see that in their latest LifeSkills advert, Barclays have opted for the old ‘C’mon kids! If you can’t make effective eye contact – you’ll be on the job scrap heap forever!’ approach.

I would have hoped that Barclays – given their oodles of dosh – could have thought a little bit longer and a little bit harder before they decided to embrace such an off-the-peg and unhelpful approach to customer service training. The last thing people who really, truly struggle with this issue need is a an advert going out there – telling all and sundry that they are somehow ‘wrong.’

Sure, it’s important to tell young people that *some* people (not me, for example – good grief, no) prefer being looked slam-dunk in the eye when they’re asking you where the tins of baked beans are located.

But it’s equally important not to discriminate against those of us who cannot do this – and who cannot be trained to do this. Whether due to cultural differences or disability issues.

Get the balance right, Barclays!

Get the balance right, Barclays!

So c’mon Barclays! We all liked the nice, chirpy lass who stars in the advert…but please drop the emphasis on Eye Contact Or No-One Will Ever Give You A Job tosh.

(and now to re-blog my original article…)

STOP STARING AT MY CHEST!

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Bicycles … Yorkshire … Africa?

19 May

Me. Fresh as a daisy! Yeah, right.

Back from sub-saharan Africa … a houseswap … a work-related project … and a ‘holiday’ (employing inverted commas here because is it *ever* a holiday when accompanied by humans under the age of 21 who happen to be your own, delightful offspring?)

So much to report on  and to ruminate over after our little jaunt to The Motherland. To begin with – how we dealt with such an enormous lack of internet, cell phones, a TV, doorbells and immediate neighbours (none within a mile …)

All of this was utterly weird at first. And then it became incredibly wonderful.  And I am missing it already. After the first few hours of adjustment, we began to see it all as a bit like a gift from the big guy upstairs (NB – apologies to my Brit next-door neighbour, Lisa  – who really shouldn’t take offence at the above paragraph. Our Lisa is welcome anytime of the day at our slum – especially if the cuppas are accompanied by our usual bitch-fest with regards to certain Kirklees household refuse collectors!)

But one thing that I am really noticing since we got back is the sheer volume of giddiness with regards to Le Tour Yorkshire here in The Valleys.

Don’t get me wrong – I am chuffed to mintballs about the fact that Le Tour is going to be wheeling it’s way through God’s Own Country. Many of our local writer-sorts worked their batties off in order to get a teensy bit of grant-funding so that we could mix n’ mash writing and the arts and expose the usual wheely-obsessed sorts to our local scribbling talent (YOU GO Holme village and the Yurt and our postcard project!)

But having had many conversations with desperately poor people in southern Africa as to the the tiny things that would improve their lives, I cannot help but have a slightly different perspective on things on my return home.  Apart from food, healthcare and education – one of the things that cropped up time and again was ‘transport’.

“Just a bicycle to share between our families, would really make such a difference,” was something that we heard an awful lot…

Owning a bicycle would mean that those people in Namibia, in rural Botswana, Zambia, Zim or South Africa – those who might live out in the former townships and who are the fortunate ones to have jobs out in the towns – don’t have to spend one-fifth of their meagre wages on transport. Owning a bicycle would mean access to emergency help when problems arise. Owning a bicycle would mean true independence – a foothold on the ladder to dignity. Owning a bicycle would mean having enough food in order to stop your children from dying of malnutrition.

And really, I am not exaggerating this last point. I’ve just arrived back home to the UK. I witnessed a deterioration in circumstances for the poorest people in Namibia since only a few years ago, when I lived there myself. I saw what a difference just a few pennies a week can make. In terms of life and death amongst the bairns in the Kalahari…

But more on that, later.

So. for now.  Let’s celebrate our marvellous chance to show the world how Yorkshire Rocks in terms of our hills and valleys – but let’s also have a serious think about how we can turn some of the media spotlight and the inevitable money involved in Le Tour – into something that will actually benefit the world’s poor.

And yeah. I am inviting Answers and Ideas On A Postcard. Please!

Le Tour Yorkshire – and indeed Holmfirth – came with us. But we would have loved to have left a permanent legacy in a land that so desperately needs two-wheelers…

 

Stop Staring At My Chest!

2 Apr

Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?

 

Mandela – Connecting with the past…

5 Dec

In the late 80’s I was a very politically aware teenager.

But it was more about the miner’s, Thatcherite travesties, the threat of student loans…

BBC coverage of Soweto uprisings, talk of apartheid, of an old chap who had been in prison for some god-awful amount of years because he felt he was equal to white people?

Well. Much as I agreed with them all – wanted an end to this crazy segregation – this appalling apartheid-thing…much as I signed the petitions and wore the t-shirts and applauded the sentiments.

I didn’t get ‘it’ -the bigger picture.  Of why it happened. Until (by accident) I saw my own mother standing, staring at a TV set in east Manchester in 1990 and watching Mandela on that Walk….and she was crying and she had never been anywhere near Africa, but she was saying “at last – something GOOD comes of it all.”

That was Mandela.  And yes – forget the soundbites.

His legacy LIVES.

Ask the children. But more importantly- do not forget the legacy of apartheid – and of imperialism – in Africa…

San bushmen kids that we lived and worked with - still 'lowest of the low' in southern Africa. The kind of kids that Mandela did his utmost to help...

San bushmen kids that we lived and worked with – still ‘lowest of the low’ in southern Africa. The kind of kids that Mandela did his utmost to help…