Chileshe,quirky,immensely funny and über smart,tackling medical school after leaving her surfer,rower ways back in California.Reader of many books,writer of her honest thoughts and now weilding a camera,she exudes a confidence in knowing,and fully accepting herself as she is.
What do you celebrate about being a woman?
I love the female form, in all its iterations; I saw a photo essay recently about all the ways a hijab can be fashionable and it was just so beautiful. I also love the strength that women have. I have surprised myself more than once by surviving things I didn’t think I could. I am impressed over and over by the things women overcome and achieve in sometimes impossible conditions.
What do you wish other women knew?
That there’s PLENTY of room in the world for all the beautiful, smart, accomplished women—don’t bring your sisters down. And that a smile makes any woman even more beautiful. We struggle under all of these expectations about what is “beautiful,” or “sexy” when in fact there are so many ways to be those things and you should find and express your own, to the best of your ability. AND. . .don’t bring your sisters down 😀
How do you express yourself creatively?
I take photographs, and especially love portrait photography. I wrote a lot when I was younger (oh, the angsty journal entries!), and I have lost that a little bit, but it used to be such an important mode of expression for me and a huge way in which I processed my feelings and emotions that it’s something I desperately want to get back to.
How are you making a difference in the world?
Oh gosh. . .I’m doing my best to be myself, my version of a proud Zambian woman, no matter how much that gels or contradicts what other people’s feeling about that is. To paraphrase the famous Marianne Williamson quote, I hope that my willingness to be myself and “risk” letting my own light shine, will give others permission to do the same.
I’m also studying to be a medical doctor (I only have a year left!!!), which is kind of a traditional path to walk, but it’s been a very humbling experience. As a student there’s not always a lot I can personally do from an “treatment” standpoint, but I hope that I can bring patients a little comfort with a smile, a few moments to make them feel heard, a little extra effort to follow up a lab result, so that they can get helped just a little faster, navigate our (often complex) medical system a little more easily.
One of my favourite sayings is “people wont necessarily remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.” So I try to live up to that every day.
What do you believe is your calling and what are you doing about it?
I have long had this idea that Zambia should have the sort of medical and educational system that attracts the rest of the world to us, in the same way that those people with the means to will usually go elsewhere: that as citizens we have the right to top notch services, and we definitely have the intellectual capabilities to provide them if only we had the infrastructure. Medical school is the first step in making that dream a reality, followed by some practical hospital experience and a Masters or MBA in Hospital Administration. Then I just have to overhaul the entire health system. No big deal 🙂
How do you celebrate where you come from?
I wear a lot of Zam-Jewelry, and local designers, and I love love love Zam-music: everything from the traditional kalindula guitar of PK Chishala to the uncanny rock and roll of Jaggery Chanda and the Witch band, to Exile and Macky II, to vernacular church songs. I also try not to haggle too much with artists when I buy crafts, because I believe that African art needs to be given the same value that is accorded to Western artists: you always hear that this painting or that sculpture sold at auction for so many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I feel that African artists deserve that same level of respect: this is their craft and their livelihood, and I believe in recognizing that with a fair price. It’s tough sometimes (I am a student after all, and haggling is an intrinsic part of our Zambian culture 🙂 but it’s definitely something I try to do as much as I can. I try to maintain a positive attitude about the challenges we still have ahead of us, rather than singing the negative chorus we were all taught about Zambia.
What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
Learning how to have the confidence to march to my own drumbeat. I really struggled academically at a couple of points in my life, including in the early part of medical school, and several people advised me to quit. Finding the strength to pick myself back up after those academic failures was one of the toughest things I’ve personally had to face.
More generally, I think that as Africans we have a lot of pressure from a lot of different sources: from the high academic expectations of our parents (I always joke about quitting med school and moving back to California to teach little kids how to surf. But mmmm, the furoré that would create at my house is totally not worth it:), to what the people in our peer groups might think about what we’re wearing or doing, to the ideas about Africa and Africans that come from inside our culture as well as outside of it—how a good black or African girl should behave; what Africans are capable of or should be good at (as if we were all one amorphous blob :). I think this is an aspect of Black culture that can be as stifling as it can be wonderful: this underlying sentiment that we are all responsible for each other, and the triumphs and failures of an individual Brother or Sister are a reflection on Blacks as a whole. Following my urge to swim against the tide of all the different expectations hasn’t always been easy.
Having diverse positive Black portrayals has really helped me, from the kids on the Cosby show to the band P-squared, to Issa Rae on Youtube, to Towani Clarke (a Zambian designer, making and selling gorgeous designer clothes right here in Zambia): seeing Black and/or African people who are doing things people may not have thought were our “niche” is a precious gift that I don’t take for granted. Being brave enough to rise to that challenge, and ignore the sometimes negative opinions and reactions of the people who are yet to come around is sometimes a huge obstacle, but the rewards are worth the awkwardness and insecurity. A lot of which ends up being all in my head, once I put myself out there!
You can follow Chileshe on twitter @chileshemabs