Taking charge of your life is not a root canal

I bought “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux as my reading material for the long flight from Seattle to Cape Town end of October last year. It has taken me this long to finish it. It is full of confirmations as small parts of my life from the UN and NGO years in the 90’s resurfaced to fall into their appropriate places.

It shows a very different, but also true side of Africa than the tourists usually see.

Paul narrates his travels from Cairo to Cape Town by bus, train, or boat through East Africa – countries he had visited and lived in 35 years earlier.

At some point he makes it to Johannesburg and meets with his friend, author, Nobel prize winner Nadine Godimer.  In a few, for me significant paragraphs Nadine talks with him about her life, her decision to stay in South Africa, even when things got tough. “I didn’t leave. I stayed. I saw everything. The people who left – well, you can’t blame the Africans. Life was awful for them. But the others – the whites, the writers” – she shook her head – “after they left, what did they write?”

And then it hit me: I left the States. That had become my place! My voice had become an American voice after 28 years living there. I lived most of those years as a single mother and in my empty-nest years I focused on single aging women and retirement. I lived what became my voice.

What Nadine maybe doesn’t realize is, that sometimes moving away from a known place can bring more clarity. Now that I live removed from that environment I realize that one may get so focused and submerged in the immediate issues, that it is hard to find release or proper perspective sometimes.

Changing locations brings relativity, a broader view at least. By simply comparing situations, options, available resources some of the differences become so much clearer.

One of those differences is the freedom women in the States enjoy to shape their lives, to create the solutions to their problems, to face challenges with insight and use the available resources wisely. The US is indeed the land of the free. That doesn’t mean there are no hardships, or poverty, or hopelessness, but I do believe it means that we, American women of all color and creed, are free to enjoy the ultimate freedom: the freedom to choose. There are options available to us that women worldwide, except for a few European countries maybe, can only dream of.

Let’s stop being afraid, or frustrated, or angry. It is too late for all that. Other societies are waiting for us to be that role model.  Let’s bring it on!! Step up to the plate!! Take on the challenge!!

It’s not a root canal. It’s your very life and the quality of it, we are talking about.


  1. How nice to hear your strong voice across all the space between us.

    The new year brings new challenges and opportunities. I’ve found a support group to move my Norwex business to the next level. I am passionate about offering my friends the chance to clean their homes, and do their personal care, with as few chemicals as possible. This Mother Earth really needs us all to live more green.

    I’d love to hear more from you. Stay in touch!

  2. Helena says:

    What an amazing insight. And so well written. Thanks for your encouragement. We need that desperately during this time of campaigning.

  3. Marielle:

    Good to hear from you since your departure.

    Your comments and observations are interesting. What freedoms do you see in the US that are non existent in today’s South Africa? Are those limitations primarily based on race and gender?

    There’s no doubt in my mind that you will be a force for positive growth.

    Take care–


  4. Iris says:

    I am indeed done with being afraid to open my heart. I want to live without muting the music in me.

    Freedom comes with responsibilities. You can do whatever you want but you must remember whatever happens, you are the one who did it, not the person you blame.

    With that said, I love the freedom to be myself. It would have been much harder anywhere else in the world but in the States.

  5. Tawnya Patrick says:

    Fantastic to hear from you again!

    The USA won’t be the same without you. We need all the strong women we can get. I guess our loss is South Africa’s gain. I look forward to see what this new chapter of your life brings to your story.

    Keep in touch,


  6. Thank you, Iris, for that beautiful image: I want to live without muting the music in me. That’s really what life is all about.
    Are people afraid to exercise their freedom because of the responsibilities attached to it?

  7. I have not been in South Africa long enough to say with certainty, but I know the States a little better. We are exposed in the States to a huge market, versatile, open, supporting all sorts of enterpreneurial efforts. Women in the States have networks and resources and above all, a long history of work and career building. Ceilings are higher. My point of the blog was that, very often, we ourselves are the main obstacle to success. Don’t blame the economy or the government. They both need our ingenuity and creativity to come out of this stand-still. As Iris stated: don’t mute the music in you.

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