The fabulous fifties!

Friday January 29 2016

Left: Tazim Elkington, 55, is a writer, poet

Left: Tazim Elkington, 55, is a writer, poet and public speaker. Right: Joy Odera is a former banker and human resources manager in her late fifties. She is now a writer, columnist and published author working on her second novel. PHOTOS| COURTESY 

By RACHEL WAMBUI
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Tazim Elkington, 55, is a trainer, writer, poet and public speaker. She believes the need to conform is what drives anxiety around ageing.

 

“The question I would ask young women is: What does your life mean to you? Is it about complying with rules and regulations that have conditioned your minds? Or are you capable of questioning the meaning of your existence?”

-  Tazim Elkington

 

ON AGEING

“I don’t know where the idea that you can’t ask a woman her age came from, but I have always been proud of and accepted whatever age I was. I never had insecurities when I crossed over to a new decade.

The reason why younger women get anxious as they age is because there are these consumer-driven images that tell you how you are supposed to be by a certain age, and one feels as if they don’t fit into that picture. I don’t do trends.”

 

ON IMAGE

‘You look good for your age’ is very patronising. What it means is that I’m really not supposed to be looking like this. I have had body issues in the past. I wasn’t really comfortable in my own skin until my 30s or so. Growing up, I was considered dark-

skinned in my community. I also supposedly have a big behind (for an Indian girl). Later, I realised this is the only body I have.”

 

ON STYLE

The only time I allowed myself to adhere was when I had my children and had to fit to a template. As a young mum, I did the best I could to ‘fit’ into societal expectations. In the end it didn’t work and I had to have a conversation with myself and say that

the expectations of me were unrealistic. I can only be me. I can’t fit into any ‘condition’ based on my age.  “I wear what I want. (Now), if you say that at 55 I’m not allowed to wear these flashy orange tights, I’ll ask you, ‘Allowed by whom?’

 

ON MARRIAGE

I got married because I wanted a family of my own. I got married at 18; I had my first child at 19 and the second at 21. By 30, I realised that the marriage was on shaky ground. I hung in there in the hope that things would get better. I got divorced at 36.

When I think about it now, we were both very young and our pasts had not provided the fundamental pillars to nurture this union. If I was to move out I was going to have to be strong enough to be on my own. That’s when I started meditating and asking

questions about life and realised there’s more to life.

 

ON DATING

When I got divorced I met a lovely man who I was in relationship with for seven years. We separated but are still very good friends. My ex-husband and I managed to find a middle ground.

I am however very particular about the men I date. The difference is that at 55 you are even more careful and more sensible about whom you let into your space. I have been single for a while, by choice, as my priority has been to set up my business.

I am fine being by myself and I love my own company. Most people panic because they feel alone and out of time, and they walk into relationships and start making demands for commitment before laying the foundation.

 

ON SEX

There is no difference between my sex-life now and in my 30s. I am a sexual being and I have never been ashamed of saying that; my emotion of love is what triggers the sexuality. I have gone through my second puberty (I don’t like the word menopause)

and it wasn’t easy. Do you know I actually miss my period?! I used to wait for it eagerly because I knew it would leave me energised! But now it’s been two years and I’ve moved on. I do not feel less of a woman or of a person because I am in different

phase in my life.

 

ON RETIREMENT

From my 20s I had said I would retire when I drop dead. Because what does retirement mean? That you become redundant? That you are no longer a contributor to yourself, to those close to you or to society?

Yet with all the experience, wisdom and smarts there is so much you can impart. The diversity of my work and the very small circle of friends that I have keeps me fully engaged.

My daughters are now mothers and with three grandsons and fourth on the way, I feel very fortunate.

 

ON WELLNESS

Having undergone my second puberty, I realised that exercise had to become part of my routine.  I work out three times a week to ensure that my energy levels are maintained.

I also watch my eating habits. I am very selective of the people around me. My journey had been predominantly about raising my level of consciousness and awareness.

Of course I have challenges. But now I’m more discerning of what matters and what doesn’t. When I started meditating about 25 years ago, it helped me turn inwards, dissolve a lot of fears and drop unwanted baggage.

I’m not worried about people’s opinions. At this stage in my life what’s important to me is that I keep expanding my consciousness and awareness and keep putting meaning in my life, and share that with those in my life.  

***

Joy Odera, 57, is a former banker and human resources manager turned writer, columnist and author. She explains why our lives shouldn’t be determined by a number.

 

“People always ask me what age I would you like to be. I say I would like to be me, now. I was good at being 20 when I was 20. I was good at 40 when I was 40. The sooner we accept that our bodies go through changes we are not in control of, the better and happier we will be.”

-           Joy Odera

 

ON FIXATION WITH AGE

I think this fear of age is an inherited concept. In the African context, we never really kept age.  But now we have a system where by age five you start school, by 13 you go to high school, by 30 you get married, by 60 you retire and so on.

There is pressure to achieve these landmarks that have been set for you.

We have an obsession with the turn of the decade, but when you think about it, why is 30 more special than 31 or 32? Because we are more comfortable with pigeonholes. If I say that I’m in my 50s, that’s not acceptable because I have to be pinned down

to a specific age. But numerical age shouldn’t matter. Yes, we mature and our experiences change us but I don’t think it’s because of the time. It’s the life experiences that should matter.

 

ON IMAGE

‘I look good for my age’? Then what is my age supposed to look like? Am I supposed to have wrinkles and if so, how many wrinkles at 50 and how many at 60 and so on? If I am comfortable (mentally and physically) wearing jeans and miniskirts, then I

should wear them whether I am 20 or 60. If I am not comfortable wearing them then I shouldn’t wear them, whether I am 20 or 60! Why use age and image to define ourselves?

 

ON MARRIAGE

I got married at 30 because I was ready and I had met the right man. Of course I wasn’t independent of pressure (to get married) but what was more important to me was getting a good man in my life no matter what age I was.

This stopped me from settling for less. Because if you say I must be married by 30 and you are not flexible, you set yourself up for failure. And maybe all you had to do was wait three or four more years for the right man. And no I didn’t get lucky; I was

patient, I didn’t put pressure on myself and I didn’t let other people pressure me either. I know a lady who got married for the first time at 72!

 

ON SEX

I think that we have overrated and glamorised sex. As a 25 or 30-year-old, sex is a big part of your relationship because your body is wired to procreate. Yet sex is just one part of a loving relationship.

If your relationship is hinged on sex only and the post-menopausal period arrives, then your relationship becomes a problem. I am not saying there is no sex after menopause, but it is not as frequent or as urgent. 

 

ON ENJOYING LIFE

The beauty of living life to the full is that now I look back at it with a smile. I am also in a better position to laugh at the mistakes I made. If I knew then what I know now there are things I wouldn’t have wasted so much time dwelling on, like crying over

break-ups. But it’s important to go through that to be able to appreciate it at 50 and beyond. That’s why I always tell my girls to enjoy life as long as they are not harming themselves or others. Live now, otherwise you will spend the second part of your life

trying to fill those gaps.

 

ON CAREER CHOICES

I had wanted to study history, literature and geography.  But my parents said, ‘what?! Do you want to become a teacher!?’ So I studied economics and human resources management instead. But I wanted to write.

When I had my girls, I took a break to take care of them. I started writing children stories for them and I never stopped writing. Five years ago I decided to write a novel which was published in 2013. I’m working on the second one.

Writing a book was a journey of self-exploration. Certain things were suddenly very clear; like the fact that writing is what I should have done in the first place. I should have insisted. But back then we had a fear of our parents. I have not had problems

adjusting though. I don’t plan to stop either.

 

ON BECOMING YOUR BETTER SELF

When you are young you are still trying to define yourself. But as you age you lose that selfish sense of self and become more aware of your better self. I have also become more spiritual and less religious.

I think this has developed because of having many of my pending questions answered. This has increased and cemented my faith in God.