Step Into My World…

Author Archive

Hooters, Biltong, Mamelodi… My First 48 Hours In Pretoria

So here I am!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this blog and starting with my entry into South Africa seems logical – I tried to make it glamorous. I really did. I searched my brain for great phrases to step off the plane and into the country with. You know, something to carry with me through thick and thin. Maybe not even a phrase or word but a profound conviction. But I think tiredness was suppressing every in my brain and as I stood at the baggage carousal I did the whole “What have I done, I don’t want to be here” conversation with myself. Thankfully I did have enough wisdom floating through the haze to recognize the transition signs. So in that moment of panic and even now when I have a little “Oh no what have I done moment” I actually try to not dwell on any of the thoughts that could potentially send me off the edge. That, and I’ve just been trying to walk life with Jesus. I attempted to watch a movie in bed last night with Him but if we were to judge how that was going by my waking at 3am this morning with my glasses still on and no memory of falling asleep then I would say, I’m still finding my feet with this concept of living intimately with God haha.

What is Pretoria like? Well leaving Johannesburg Airport and driving to Pretoria was slightly bizarre. It reminded me a lot of home. Miles of just… land. Like the Lake District. Except, the ground is orange, red and brown; the grass is dried out green; the wildlife consists of giraffes (I’ve yet to actually see them); the second day of spring consisted of blue skies and a high of around 27 degrees C… It’s hard to see how I drew the connection to the Lake District but somehow I did. Go figure. I think it was more to do with the way that for miles there is nothing but land and roads and then all of a sudden there is what I can only describe as “random islands of community”. I say this because it’s like there are literally islands of densely populated areas surrounded by enough land to think “Why don’t they just spread out more to give everyone more space?”

My flat is pretty cute. It’s like 3 rooms all joined together in a line. When you open the sliding door you step into the kitchen and living area; the next room is my room and attached to the bedroom is a bathroom. My flat is where the domestic maids would once upon a time live. The mini kitchen/living space was added on in the past 5 years. Over the past 2 days I spent most of my time unpacking, cleaning and making the flat more my own. Actually on that note, let me tell you about my community.

I live in a gated community. There are maybe 50 houses in this community surrounded by walls and electric fences. You drive up there are security guards. But then each house has walls, electric fences, signs saying “Armed response”… I’m not sure you’d believe me but the neighborhood it’s quite beautiful, safe and peaceful all things considering. I asked some of the long term people and people from Pretoria about safety and it’s not as bad as the horror stories everyone seems to be telling me. Thank God. Outside my community is a mini shopping complex and get this… It has a Hooters. The first thing you are greeted with as you come and go from my community is this Hooters. Which I just think is so comical. And Dad, I hate to tell you but apparently it’s a “conservative Hooters”. The girls wear tights under their shorts and vest tops instead of tops that resemble bras. It’s the most random mini shopping complex too. It does have normal stuff like a McDonalds and a supermarket but along with Hooters it also has a business called “Play Time Café”. Put it like this, it has neon lighting and about a meter past its open doors it has a wall preventing you from seeing actually IN the “café”. Somehow I don’t think this is a café.

It all feels a bit surreal here in South Africa so far. Here they have people to fill up your petrol at the petrol station; when I say hello to the maids standing on our street taking a break from their work they call me “Ma’am”; there are signs for an “internet monitored baby care service” (creepy); the Woolworths looks like it’s either associated to M&S or someone went to England, checked out M&S and stole ALL the designs and layout… I’ll have to add to this list as I continue to experience South Africa. In amongst all of this I was also talking with my manager and saying that there is a lot of respect here in Pretoria. Like those maids, I am WAY younger than them and therefore my Western ideology tells me respect should be the other way around. But as it is, that’s not what the deal is here. I’m definitely sensing the skin colour ranking here. I dunno, I’m still trying to understand. It’s a bit surreal.

Speaking of differences between England and South Africa. OMG the driving?! Roundabouts just got more confusing and I fear greatly for the day I drive again back home. So the deal with roundabouts is: mini roundabouts, if you’re turning right then you don’t have to go around them you can just go anticlockwise; if you’re all approaching a mini roundabout from the same exit some will go clockwise, others will go anticlockwise immediately after, and both vehicles just hope they won’t crash into each other when they reach their exit at the same time; and at all roundabouts you don’t give way to the right you go according to who reached the roundabout first. SAY WHAAAAT. So if there are several cars all at the roundabout before you reach there, no matter what the entry point is, you wait until they all go before you. My head hurts just thinking about is.

Yesterday morning I went to Mamelodi. And that was a pretty awesome experience. One of the OM South Africa projects is Aids Hope and they have been working alongside a primary school educating the final year group on Aids, HIV and Sexual Health. Here in South Africa primary school finishes at the age of 13. The class had around 60 kids and statistically speaking 1 in 5 of those 12-13 year olds will have Aids. Which means 12 of them. It’s quite a lot to take in and I couldn’t help but look at their faces and which of them would one day die from Aids. There’s a lot of sigma and ignorance surrounding Aids here in South Africa and so a lot of what Aids Hope does is correct these beliefs (i.e. sex with a virgin will cure you) and break down those barriers (i.e. we are all loved and equal regardless as to whether one has Aids or not). Tradition, witchcraft and culture makes it really hard to challenge and correct attitude towards Aids. Once I get more settled in my role I’ll also take up a ministry day which will most likely be working with Aids Hope. I can’t wait.

I should tell you what Mamelodi is like. Imagine an “island” of an estimated 1 million people living in makeshift one room shacks. Shacks that are smaller than the shed at my parent’s house. Surrounding the entire place is rubbish. I kept seeing rubbish being burnt and I asked my manager if they were burning the rubbish off – thinking they were trying to rid of it. But she told me no. They burn the rubbish to keep warm and to fend off evil spirits. I don’t think there is any real way for me to explain what these places are like except to take photos. However these are not really places I would dare to get my camera out.

I have been in South Africa for 58 hours, less than 2 and a half days and I feel like I’ve been here for a life time already. Stuff even happened today that I can’t share except to say it was literally a “Paul style jail break”. If you wanna see the bible stories in the 21st century you gotta leave the western world to see them for real. Absolutely crazy. I also had my first day at work today! It was fun! I think I’m going to really enjoy my job…

That’s it for now!

P.S. I was asked what I’ve been eating since I got here. So far I have been eating a lot of peanut butter on bread; bananas here are 40p a kilo so I foresee a lot of them in my future; and the only weird stuff I’ve tried so far was raw beef called Biltong. Eak!

mamelodi

Advertisements

Why I Paid Off My Student Loan And How I Did It

Hey All!

So as most of you know, I paid off my student loan?! “Good grief why would you decide to do something so radical and how on Earth did you do it?!” Good questions. Since I’m genuinely serious about helping out my fellow student peers I’ll be completely honest. And part of that honesty is to speak ONLY from my own experience. Each student, whether post, current or prospective, has their own life circumstances and those without a doubt need to be taken into consideration when discussing finances. Many will say I got lucky, and to many I will say “You’re the one who has control over your debt.” But ultimately, it comes down to what are your values.

So why did I pay off my student loan.

Personally I believe there are rights and responsibilities. I have a right to education but a responsibility to my government and country to pay what I owe. I live in a country where the government thinks it’s great we have opportunities to learn but they have said it doesn’t come free. I took out my loans, ticked all the boxes and signed the contracts saying I want the money and yes I understand the conditions. From the minute I even contemplated university at the age of 14 years old I know this would be the way I would be able to receive my education and what was expected of me.

Over the course of my life I have probably spent more time moaning about taxes, lack of jobs, limited housing, elderly care, health care systems, benefit cheats and goodness knows what else than any other subject. Maybe not… but daily I have commented or had lengthy discussions about how I don’t have what I want in life. Every 4 weeks I see nearly a 1/3 of wages disappear. Doesn’t seem fair really. I worked so freaking hard for it.

But then here’s the other way for me to look at it. Why should I take thousands of pounds from the government, contribute to the country’s national debt and then complain when they can’t give me what I want. Actually, it’s not about what I want. Why should I demand all my life for this and that, and then expect YOU to pick up the pieces. In fact, demanding what I believe is my “right” and not being humble enough to accept my rights in life comes with responsibilities makes me a no more than a hypercritic.

On top of all that, my loans impact my savings, my mortgage, it adds 20 plus years of stress… Why in my right mind would I want to do that to myself? When it comes to a mortgage, yes, it is affected by my loans. My parents looked at getting simple £80,000 house as an investment. They looked at putting the mortgage in their name, and then in my name. My monthly mortgage repayments would be nearly double what they were expected to pay simply because I had a loan in my name. But please, don’t take my word for it… Go down to your bank and look into it all yourself.

Others told me I should put money aside as savings, earn interest on my savings, which would in theory give me more money and in theory pay off my student loan faster. I did my research on that too. I went into Nationwide, RBS, HSBC and NatWest branches to discuss the many different ways I could save. The options are limited at best. The highest interest rates on accounts only allowed you to put a certain amount of money in it and only at limited times. E.g. £150 once a month. I wanted more flexibility. Even then, the best interest rates were only around 3%. The same as what my loans were accumulating. But what people have never mentioned to me is 3% interest on a £150 payment is very little in comparison to 3% on a £15,000 loan. My savings will never catch up to my growing loans. Let me put it very simply: £150 over 12 months is £1800 in savings. Let’s say for argument’s sake the 3% interest is added at the end of 12 months, I have earned £54. Now, add 3% interest on to my £15,000 loan, my loan is now £450 more. 9 times more than I earned. Like I said, I will never ever catch up doing that.

Now here’s the other thing. “Why pay your loan off Akila when you could just wait 20 years and it’ll be wiped off?” Let me ask something, when have you ever said “I believe what the government tells me?” You may then say “But both you and those loaning you the money have signed contracts”… Yes we have. Does anyone absolutely 100% know what they’ve signed up for? With all due respect, the government is NOT going to loan out millions and millions of pounds and simply wipe it off. In fact I heard student loans have put the country in nearly a trillion pounds of debt. Even those earning over the wage threshold won’t have paid back much of what they owe. Would you allow that to happen if you loaned out all this money? No, I’m 99% sure you wouldn’t. 6 months ago it even hit headlines recently that student loans will be sold off to loan repayment companies.

There is absolutely nothing certain in life except death. It is mathematically, scientifically and economically impossible for anyone to guarantee “here’s your student loan, good luck paying it off and after X amount of years we’ll wipe it.” If our economy collapses, what’s stopping the “contract” from being revoked with “sorry guys, we’re desperate, you owe us, cough it up”? Retirement changed, taxes changed… You can’t even have an empty bedroom in your home anymore. The government is always threatening and finding ways to stop giving us money and take more money away from us. Of course, I agree this might all be speculation but like I said, why in my right mind would I want to put myself through the stress of uncertainty?

So here is how I did it.

Half way through my final year at university my loans stood at around £15,000. At its peak the interest my loan was earning was over £39 a month. When my final loan instalments came in I realised I didn’t actually need it and so paid that and some more back. That was £3000 which dropped my loan to around £12,000. My interest was still £15 a month. Over the next year I was on 0% interest and so didn’t pay anything off. Then January 2012 I decided that whatever came into my bank account I would use 10% to pay off my loan. For 7 months I was unemployed and on Job Seekers, £5 a week doesn’t sound like a lot but it added up. As of August 2012 I started working for a supermarket and still every month when I got my pay slip I took 10% and paid off my loan. Again it doesn’t sound like a lot but again, it does add up.

All this time while I was taking 10% and paying off my student loan, I also had 6 other savings funds. After I paid my parents for the rent, took £100 for myself to live off for 4 weeks (food, petrol, entertainment, clothes, hair, make up etc), and took 10% to pay off my loan I then put 10% in each of these funds. Why did I do this? Well for example, one of my funds was for a car. Eventually I was able to pay nearly £2000 for a car, insurance and tax without batting an eye lid. For me I chose to do things like that so that I always had the money there when I needed it rather than panic about when I needed it. And you know what, I lived a full life for how “little” I lived on. I went on holidays, I bought clothing, I went to the cinema, I had takeaways, I had nights out… I was never without because, in my opinion, I played it smart. So in November 2013 I looked at my savings and looked at my wages and decided to go all out. Like a game of Poker, I put all my chips in. But unlike Poker knew I couldn’t lose. I took any money I had in those funds and used the entire lot to pay off all I could of my loan. And then over the next months I paid rent, took my £100 and put all my wages towards my loan. By April 2014 I paid off the entire loan.

Like I said, each person has their own circumstances. I paid rent but for the first year it was very little. It increased by 100% the following year. I live in an area where it’s possible to have a car and I’m not paying for sky-high travel costs. My job at the supermarket was fantastic in that I worked hard and got myself opportunities to go from 16 hours at £6.34 to 39 hours at £8.30. Yes I was very blessed and very lucky. But don’t forget at one point I was unemployed and had a lot of debt. I don’t believe for one minute that taking control of ones finances is limited to those with money. Whether it’s student loans, mortgage loans, money lending loans… I believe it comes down to values.

I know that is, for many, provocative but I genuinely believe if you really want to get out of debt you will do what is necessary. But it’ll only happen if it’s a real value to you to do so. Your desire to be debt free will trump whether you have a take away once a week or once a fortnight. It will trump buying a move when it first comes out to waiting a couple of months. It will trump whether you spend £20 on clothing each month or £100. I never ever thought I could do this but I did. And so can you. The 10% rule can be applied to any loan and any saving! I may literally have “zero” in my bank account, but I sure as hell have zero debt in my name also 😀

If you want advice or help with your finances there is a lot of support out there!

CAP (Christians Against Poverty) – https://www.capuk.org/

HM Revenue & Customs – http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/payinghmrc/problems/debt-help.htm

StepChange – http://www.stepchange.org/

 

Over The Finish Line!

Over The Finish Line!


The Truth that Smashed the Lie.

Hey!

So something really cool happened on Sunday morning but before I tell you what, I have to give you the background story first 🙂

When Mike died I felt really close to God. I needed Him so much to get me through Mike’s death that I felt inseparable from Him. We talked together, walked together, lay in bed crying together, laughed together, grew together, healed together, explored life’s mysteries together, learnt about His heart together… I have never been that close to God. I loved it. I thought that feeling of being so connected to Him would never change.

But in amongst it all I believed a lie. I believed that our walks with God are like a hierarchy and I finally reached THAT place everyone wants to be in but is preserved for only the most vulnerable, or the most wise, or the most special, or the most spiritual. I thought I was in the first category, and I thought that once you were in that particular realm with God you couldn’t go back. How and why would you? Once you’ve experienced it why would you want anything different?

But then something happened. The further I got from Mike’s death, the more distant I felt from God. My life turned more and more back into “normality“. That deep connection to God felt less and less. And I panicked. I panicked because I thought I did something wrong. I went through all my mistakes that happened post Mike and questioned, “God was it this one? What about that one? Must of been that other there because that’s a bit of a stinker of a sin...” Post Mike I started to freak out because I didn’t know who I was anymore. What were my dreams? Am I an introvert or an extrovert? What about my life? My friendships? My relationships?

Before I knew it I ended up in a place where everything I thought in my mind was a lie. I allowed negative things people spoke over me to define me. I allowed panic and fear to shape my walk with God. I allowed guilt to follow me and judge me. And the thing that really stood out to me about it all is… I had NO freaking idea any of this was happening. It was only maybe 2-3 months ago did I realise all these lies. Lies are sneaky, subtle and shaped in such away that they look like the truth. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I listened to it all, that I didn’t realise all those thoughts were lies.

But still I felt like I had failed. Something went wrong between me and God. I just couldn’t work out why or what happened. I felt like I was back at square one. Because doubting my self worth, listening to lies about myself, struggling with the things I struggle with… they’re all things that I’ve struggled with for a very long time. All through my teen years. I thought they were gone when Mike died. But they’re back. They’re been back for a couple years. And I thought all these struggles I have was proof that I wasn’t a good follower of Jesus after all.

Sunday morning I had my daily script running through my head. Asking myself what went wrong, asking myself why I felt distant from God, telling myself I failed, telling myself I needed to do more… But this time God stepped in and told me something.

“Akila, you’ve struggled with these things nearly all your life. Even leading up to Mike’s death. You just didn’t always recognise it. When Mike died you were in no position to deal with any of the struggles you faced prior to August 1st 2009. So I loved you the way you needed to be loved. I hugged you all night and helped you gain your strength back during the day. All your struggles that you’re talking about I took from you so you didn’t have to face them in your vulnerability. You grew Akila, you grew stronger. And in time I slowly revealed your struggles to you again because we need to deal with them. In the past you dealt with those struggles in ways that didn’t set you free from them. So this time we’re going to walk together, just like we did with Mike. We’re going to explore the lies you face about yourself and we’re going to deal with them together. I need to show you the truth. I need to show you how to speak the truth into those struggles and into those lies. I need to show you the lies so you can stamp all over them and say no. You are not a bad person and I am not showing you these lies to point out your struggles. I am showing you in order to give you power to destroy Satan.”

For the first time in a long time, something shifted inside me. I started seeing truth and a realisation settled over me. A realisation of God is in control and none of this is in vain. My eyes and my head physically felt cool like I’d come into the shade after standing in the blistering sun. I’m on a journey. I’ll be on this journey of finding truth for a while. Satan will attack from every side just as he has been. But each revelation of truth from God is one more weapon.


The Kitchen Knife, the Chopping Board & The Policeman

Hey!

Three days into the new year already?! Laura and I are off to London tomorrow which is so exciting. We’ve already had our first major debate: which suitcase to take. Apparently me hogging both sides of the suitcase meant we needed a bigger one so she could have at least one side to herself. Haha. Oops. I suppose that’s the disadvantage to self catering, packing the toilet paper can be a good idea… But there are serious compromises to be made else where. Having said that: one coat, a rain coat, two pairs of shoes… Dang this girl is doing good. I was thinking about packing a sharp kitchen knife into my bag but I’m not entirely sure what the laws are in the UK for knives. I’m aware knives on the street are a “no-no” but a kitchen knife with a chopping board? Where do you stand with that Mr Policeman? ! In all fairness, when you buy knives the majority of people walk out from the shop onto the street with them… Maybe I can blag this. But I’ll save that adventure for a rainy day.

fp

Some cool things have happened over the past few days. I was able to shine light into darkness a couple times; I had a really great catch up with a friend; my hearing aid split last night at work but was able to literally walk into audiology today and walk straight back out with it fixed; I was able to sleep when needed, wake when needed and get all my jobs done; it held of raining until I completed all my jobs in town… Sometimes it really is the most basic of things that can make such a difference in life 🙂


And So It Continues…

Hey All!

It’s been months since I last updates my blog. Yes, I’m still alive. My reason for not writing as been quite simple really: it’s not exactly been appropriate to share my life’s journey lately. So much of my life evolves around my job and so a lot of my adventures, personal development and daily randomness involves work. I’m not sure what the company policy is for talking about things that are work related and so I’ve just avoided writing. That, and the fact that I’ve been so tired I just haven’t had the mental capacity to deal with blogging.

So, is this my new year’s resolution? To start-up blogging again? No. We sat around the table last night talking about new years resolutions and actually… I don’t believe in them. Why wait a whole year before putting determination and dedication into play? I do appreciate the start of a new year can be symbolic for people in various circumstances. However I can’t help but feel that whilst we preach it so much that “every day is a new day“… I don’t believe people really embrace it the same way they do when the dates hit January 1st. And then, when people fail… I think it’s safe to say the feeling of disappointment felt by those people is so much greater.

Life is a continuum. There isn’t a start or a stop date for us to get things right. Whatever your hopes and goals for 2014, take it day by day. Moment by moment. Push yourself to meet your goals and bring reality to your hopes in such a way that when you look back over the year on December 31st 2014 you can say with confidence: “I pushed, I fought, I got up, I continued…” The achievement for so many of us is not the number of days we stopped something or did something… Our greatest achievement is that moment you refuse to believe you failed. Your journey through life and the demonstration of strength, determination and dedication speaks so much louder than any achievement of any goal. So power on friends. Make sure you always have at least one person walking life with you who can encourage you!

On that note, Jewels, my cat has been in a funny mood over the past few days. He’s had a funny eating pattern and last night he slept 14 hours on my bed and basically didn’t move. I started panicking that his behaviour was a reflection of him getting old. He is 14 and a half… And apparently that makes him approximately 75 years old in cat years?! But still I gave him a mental lecture that he is to power on and keep living. But on a more exciting note than my cat dying… January 1st has been pretty awesome. An old family friend got in touch this morning to bless my sister and I with dinner in London and West End tickets to see “Mojo” next week (OMG I’m so excited!!!); Nicole came to visit and it was lovely catching up with her; I was able to find and buy a portable sound system 25% cheaper than what I thought I’d have to pay; my sister kindly dyed my hair for me; I also was able to find and buy a good size satchel bag for our London trip… Finally, my oldest bestest friend text to update me on our plans for Saturday which will be her making Laura and I a homemade dinner, cracking open some bubbly, getting a cake in for Laura’s birthday and just spending quality time together! Life doesn’t get better than having great friendships 🙂

jewels


It’s Coming…

“You never leave someone behind, you take a part of them with you and leave a part of yourself behind.”

Unknown.

 

This is what I wrote as my Facebook status yesterday. You see, it was July 11th. Which meant it was the anniversary of the last time I saw Mike. This year, 2013, marked the 4th year that has passed by. When I mentioned this to someone earlier in the week they were confused and said: “I thought he died August 1st?” He did… But my journey leading up to the anniversary of his death begins in the weeks leading up to July 11th.

To many this may seem completely irrational; and that’s OK. When I said goodbye to Mike on this particular day I was saying goodbye for the reason that I was travelling to the Caribbean to work over the next 3 months. It was temporal. Completely temporal with the intention of keeping in contact via email and MSN. Little did I know that exactly 3 weeks later he would die. I couldn’t prevent his death. No one could… If you die in your sleep at the age of 18 and the coroner concluded there was absolutely no reason for his death… Then the only one who could have prevented his death was God. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling sad that I couldn’t prevent it from happening. The weeks leading up to July 11th comes with feelings of “It’s coming.” A journey with an outcome that I know is inevitable. I find parts of my life are being mentally relived from 4 years ago. Mike isn’t going to die every year. It’s done. He’s not going to die anymore. But it doesn’t stop me from having these feelings. Finally that moment comes where we say goodbye. Unlike in 2009… I know what’s going to happen. In three weeks time there is a date in history that will confirm he is gone. You would think these three weeks would be the hardest, rather than the weeks leading up to July 11th. But truth be told there’s almost relief in something being out your control. However, prior to this, I feel like I had every opportunity in the world to change the course of history before 11/7. After it… we were physically out of each others lives. I guess what I really mean by changing the course of history isn’t so much about preventing his death but more all the things I should or shouldn’t have done.

There is so much that I failed him on. And there’s so much heartache that we couldn’t grow old together and have the opportunities to make mature memories. Not all those childhood ones. I look back and see an argument here, a fight there… I remember so many things I wish I did differently. I wish I got him a present for his last birthday. I wish we did more together. And I feel so hopeless when I look back on all this because there is nothing I can do to change it. Nothing I can do to put any of it right. I can’t help but wonder if my passion for people’s birthdays (creating cool birthday parties) and gift giving (birthdays, Christmas, general etc) is rooted in the fact that I failed to do this for Mike and feel guilty about it. I was recently speaking to a friend about how our loved ones go on ahead to heaven and help build our heavenly homes for us to arrive to. It’s biblical… Check it out! And I was thinking, “Man, that’s like so unreal when you think about it! Mike’s up there building me this home and I’m sure he’ll do an amazing job at it!!” But then after a day of thinking this I started thinking: “I don’t deserve that sort of honour and love from Mike. It should have been me who went before him so I could serve him.”

I do realise the truth and I do know that so much is based on irrationalities. But that doesn’t change the dynamics of grief. It’s all still stuff that’s got to be processed. Even 4 years later.

1017548_10151761012555135_19995909_n-001


Whispers in the Wind

1-001 2 3-001 5 6-001 7 8-001 9 10 11-001 12 13-001 14 15 16 17