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Taking a back seat

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

There I was all packed to go on holiday on the second of January and the last task, before setting off was putting the children’s car seat in the taxi.  And that was the moment when an all too familiar agonising pain erupted in my back – one movement too many and my back seized.

This was annoying to say the least. Just the day before I had commented to a friend how fit and healthy, I was feeling, referring to my flexibility and strength and how well my yoga practise is going. As far as my back was concerned I could bend it better than Beckham.  With such mental euphoria and physical wellbeing  I envisaged a beach holiday characterized by health and vitality, ,demonstrated by early morning, lotus-position salutations to the sun and the seas.  I embodied the epitome of wellness, positivity and the good life.

And suddenly, en route this picture was rudely and cruelly shattered.  The reality which unfolded was starkly different starting with my agonising step by step shuffle through OR Tambo airport at such a slow, torturous pace that I seriously considered wheelchair assistance.  Ego trumped practicality and I soldiered onto the plane to lower myself to my seat accompanied with one distressful thought ‘how am I am going to get off at the other side, much less negotiate another airport?’

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of my misfortune, suffice to say that 10 days of discomfort followed, albeit, with ever gradual improvement. None of the imagined frolicking in the waves or sun salutations.  Instead, however, all my effort was directed to the accomplishment of simple tasks like putting on a pair of shorts, sitting down and standing up. The word ‘miserable’ comes to mind and the thought ‘incapacitated’ isn’t far away and their presence was like an unwanted song playing on repeat in my mind with no ‘off’ switch.

More debilitating than the physical aches however was my mood. Robbed of physical competence my mental wellbeing was simultaneously affected by a bout of melancholy. I was surprised how easily I plummeted into a feeling of despair and it wasn’t simply because I had a sore back. I felt that I was fighting a war in two fronts and I was under attack from two directions. Battling two aliments at the same time caught me off guard. Nothing matched.  The plan was great holiday destination, time with family, no work, rest and relaxation.  The execution was painful damage and then painful damage control.  It felt as though there was a conspiracy between my physical and mental being to screw it all up.

I know that a change in one system can affect another and that there is a strong link between mental health and physical health, although little is known about the pathways from one to the other. Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization, the psychiatrist who shepherded the notion that mental and physical health were intimately linked, famously stated that “without mental health there can be no true physical health”. More than half a century later, there is strong evidence elucidating the bidirectional relationship between mental illnesses – specifically depression and anxiety – and physical health outcomes.

It has been proven in studies that people with any chronic physical disease tend to feel more psychological distress than do healthy people. Poor physical health brings an increased risk of depression, as do the social and relationship problems that are very common among chronically ill patients.

Some more facts to stress my point:

Up to 50% of cancer patients suffer from a mental illness, especially depression and anxiety
Treating symptoms of depression in cancer patients may improve survival time, thus the mental affects the physical
In patients who are depressed, the risk of a heart attack is more than twice as high as in the general population and further
Depression increases the risk of death in patients with cardiac disease

Similarly studies have also shown that mental health problems have a causal effect on physical wellbeing
1)  A recent study by King’s College London showed the link between severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression and cardiovascular disease,  finding they were at a 53% higher risk. The risk of dying from the disease was also 85% higher than people of a similar age in the general population.

2)  A study earlier this year discovered that there was a link between high levels of mental distress and an increased risk of dying from cancer. The researchers took into account potential factors that could distort the data like age, sex, body mass index, education, smoking and alcohol consumption.

3) Studies have revealed a connection between depression and diabetes.  Those with both conditions were also 85% more likely to have a heart attack.

4) Studies have shown that people living with schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and are more likely to experience hip fractures.  Having schizophrenia almost doubles chances of having low bone density  and one in two people with schizophrenia will also have low bone mass.

So there it is! Sore back and depression or depression and sore back whatever way you look at it, we can be at risk at one thing in our system going wrong and then the whole system is affected.  It reminds me how holistic my approach to wellbeing must be and the need for balance. In my own case I have devoted a lot of time in the past few months to my physical wellbeing with a better yoga practise to show for it, but I have been nothing more than frugal with the maintenance of my psychological wellbeing.  I know this because had my psyche been stronger, I wouldn’t have taken the knock that I did.

When we are ill or injured and something is not working as it should, the body is out of balance and this imbalance causes our body to react more intensely, sometime shutting down in order to heal itself – illness is the body healing and this is one of the ways that the body re-balances itself. Despite my 10 days of awkwardness, doom and gloom I realise now that there is a need to balance movement and stillness.

According to Holistic Health Consultant, Lana Lensman,  if we push or move too fast our body will respond by going into protection mode, slowing down or stopping the flow of movement, resulting in a backlog of energy.  If we are too distracted, interrupting the flow of consciousness from coming in our body we will send signals of alert to wake us up.

Resistance to what is, is never a good strategy and when I stopped resisting, I could start listening with intelligence. What I wanted was a good holiday where I could recharge my batteries and come back stronger because that’s what breaks are all about.  During most of the holiday I could not see the wood for the trees and resented the sore back and low mood. 

I understand now that I did exactly what I needed to in those last 10 days when all I could concentrate on was mental down time in the form of an emotional slump and where physical activities were reduced to the menial…it’s a clever thing the body-mind relationship and when they work in harmony together it’s actually genius.   In my case the one clearly consulted with the other and concluded that I needed to ease off strenuous exercise and repair my overstretched mind and between them they forced the issue.  I have listened and learned that this year fully intend to heed their intrinsic wisdom more often.

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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