In October 2013 I wrote about, “Technology, social media, Africa and me”. In it I said, “I have access to multiple strands of rich information, conversations and thought leadership through the wonderful world wide web…” The 52 Zambian Bloggers project is a fantastic example of what great ideas and the internet can do together. Not only do we need more African stories, we need more Zambian stories. We need to uncover, produce and share what Zambians across the world are doing today to make positive change. Spreading these stories is like igniting a spark in the darkness of the very real challenges, impossibilities and limitations we all experience. Spreading these stories demonstrates that a mix of unfathomable dreams, resolute tenacity, steadfast hope, renewed faith and tonnes of hard work does make a positive impact.
And so, here is the story of one young woman who I have met virtually through her blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and email. One day, we will meet face to face. Her name is Dailesi, known to her friends as Dai. Dailesi is pronounced, ‘die-less’, the ‘i’ at the end is silent.
Dailesi is a pretty busy! She is:
- Exploring her writing on the blog Initium Novum, aka thenjobvuintheroom.wordpress.com
- A Program Manager at the American Chamber of Commerce in Zambia where she helps businesses in all sectors interact with other local or international businesses, governments, potential partners and/or employees
- Co-organiser of the Lusaka WordPress bloggers group
- Regularly spotted at Lusaka’s entrepreneurial networking events
Taking part in this project demonstrated how with today’s technology, we can all build relationships and collaborate with people anywhere in the world. Given the chance, we’d both do this again.
May you value the inspiration and lessons within these 10 questions with Dailesi.
Tell me about your growing up years?
Life started in Lusaka. When I was 11, my parents moved away for work but I maintained school in Zambia, spending school holidays with them. And so I experienced a little more of Southern Africa. By 10th grade, I was sent to boarding school in Zambia’s Eastern Province (that decision was not mine). As I finished secondary school in Chipata my parents made their biggest move, to Belgium.
This time I moved with them but I was not entirely excited. I wanted to be in Lusaka, go to the University of Zambia (UNZA), reconnect with my old friends and start a somewhat normal life in one place. Instead, I spent almost 4 years in Belgium. Unlike boarding school, in the end I loved it and I now consider Belgium my second home.
I moved back to Zambia at the end of 2010 when my parents returned after their diplomatic service. Although I had started an enjoyable life there, to live and work in Brussels, one needs to understand and speak French, Flemish and at least an extra European language, in addition to English. I learnt French, Spanish and Flemish but not well enough to get me a serious career start in Brussels.
Returning to Zambia would be the only way to see what else the world had to offer. I was also excited about the idea of contributing to Zambia as my eyes had been opened to other ways of life. I could look at issues from the “outside looking in”. I had seen Zambians doing great things when they returned and I wanted to emulate that.
2. How does your experience in Belgium, America and other places you have been affect who you are today?
Something about being far away from Zambia made me open up a little more to people. I missed Zambia so much I started to appreciate it a lot more.
I don’t think I paid much attention to what “being Zambian” was until I was the only Zambian in my school in a foreign place. Then it became my patriotic duty to teach people about Zambia.
It opened my eyes to be accommodating, open to a lot of things, to be objective and to continue learning about anything and everything. Meeting people from different countries and cultures impacts you in many ways. I am open to learning more languages, trying diverse cuisine, learning more about different cultures and I easily adapt to new environments. I am a lot more curious to know about people and their backgrounds and I’m always excited to introduce Zambia to them.
3. Who has been key influences in your life?
It’s easy to point at the big things, but there are small moments that lead to big successes. Many instances that impacted my life involved a lot of people. It is hard to answer this as it is difficult to point at particular people. I feel like there have been many influences but here is a small selection.
He always encouraged hard work as the only key to success. He taught us to not limit oneself in any way.
He was a boy born in Petauke in Eastern Province. He worked so hard he made it to Harvard where he got his master’s degree.
That alone was motivation enough for me to know that opportunities are available for everyone in life. We can all better ourselves and achieve great success. One has got to be open to identifying an opportunity and making the most out of it.
Senator Rodney Ellis
My success in a work task resulted in him visiting Zambia. He recommended I participate in the Texas Leadership Internship Program which he runs. And so I moved to Texas for a while. I saw and learnt many amazing things he has done which left me inspired and motivated to achieve more.
The Gossip Girl character, Blair Waldorf
In an odd way, I still get inspired by Blair. I have some life successes I can say came about because I followed things she did in the series. I was crazy about it as a teenager and could not get over how ambitious she was and how she was such of a go getter.
4. Let’s talk about your love for reading…
I did not like most of the TV shows my siblings watched so reading became my favorite thing. I read Enid Blyton and Roald Dhal and by secondary school I read pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. I read African literature, Harry Potter books, Lemony Snicket’s series of unfortunate events, Ken Follet and I also discovered and fell in love with Jeffrey Archer’s books. I also enjoyed reading literature in ChiChewa (a local language). By the time I got to university, I had moved away from reading fiction toward biographies and self-help books.
I recommend reading because it opened up my mind to many worlds and cultures without having to take a step outside of my house.
It helped build my knowledge. I was able to relate to different kinds of people even before I started travelling. It helped widen my vocabulary. Reading has also helped me learn different languages.
I have many books that represent a different time of my life so it’s hard to pick a treasured one. The following represent a time in my life where nothing else made sense, but I would find myself as soon as I opened my book.
- As the Crow Flies – Jeffrey Archer
- The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things – Carolyn Mackler
- Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandburg
5. Tell us about your blog and how you see it evolving?
My original idea was to have a YouTube vlog. But this proved complex and wouldn’t have suited Zambia at that time. I started my first blog in 2011. It was about readjusting to life back in Lusaka and a rant about using public transport. In the end this wasn’t satisfying. I figured I was a better writer than that and wanted to take a more mature stance.
My last name is Njobvu which means, ‘elephant’. I was explaining this to someone one day and figured I was always the elephant in the room. ‘The Njobvu in the room’ wordplay idea developed into wanting to talk about the elephant in the room. Sometimes the elephant is issues in our society that no one will talk about and sometimes, I am the elephant in the room.
Some people are brave and will hit on political topics. They can go for it. Some will write informative blogs. They can go for it too. As I started blogging, I realised sticking to what you know is key. If a particular sensitive issue (like this one and this one) becomes something I have experienced, then it’s time to write about that. The more I learn and experience, the more I will expand my topics and will eventually tackle the elephant in the room, touching on broader topics with a better understanding.
The ‘Intium novum’ element is because I love languages and I feel some things are better explained in a different language, better than English can express. ‘New things’ and ‘doing everything better than before’ summarised what I was trying to achieve. I was going through a transition. This was about new content, a new frame of mind and a new mature writing style.
6. What are your goals and dreams for the blog?
My first blog on Initium Novum is actually a description of myself as a writer. A closet writer. I always loved to write, but I wrote as a means of self-expression. My writing was more of an emotional outlet that I did not share with many people.
Having a blog has been my way of building my writing style. It has helped me be a more open. I want to write about more than just my personal experiences as the elephant in the room.
I want my blog to share more about life in Lusaka, potentially Zambia, from a 20 something who is trying to figure it all out – life, work, society – more like a Carrie Bradshaw meets, Blair Waldorf, meets Dambisa Moyo, meets travel blogging, meets fashion blogging, meets food blogging.
7. As a blogger, what do you think the World Wide Web can do for Zambia and Zambians?
There is lack of information and poor reading culture out there. It’s easy for learned and savvy Zambians to feel like information is flowing because they take time to read and have access to information via their phones and computers. The average Zambian, however, does not have this information. They get most of their information from their TV, Radio and their neighbor. They may own a phone, but it’s usually a simple phone with simple calling functions. Valuable information is out there and the World Wide Web makes access to this vast resource of information more accessible. Knowledge is power. More people need to have access to this power.
8. Have you come to terms with your age? From reading your blog I have to ask why it has been such a thing to accept?
If this were an interview in person, I would have laughed aloud at this question! I have what I call Peter Pan phases that I go through.
Sometimes, I just do not want to grow up because I cannot handle the thought of getting old without having done something worthwhile and remarkable with my life.
Being the last child in the family, I was always encouraged to use my siblings achievement as motivation. If they could get good grades why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t I do better? I think that’s what ignited an “over achiever” spirit within me. I got into to high school at age 12, completed high school age 16, graduated from university with my first degree in Business Comms and PR when I was 20 and got my first full time job that kick started my career at 21.
I felt I had a lot going for me when I was younger and growing older started to seem scary. I always imagined I would have achieved so much at pivotal ages. When I realised how different my life was turning out, I would panic! But I have come to terms with the fact that age is a number and focus on making the most of each moment.
9. You write advice like, “You’ll be happier and love yourself more when you live life how YOU decide you want to live your life.” What would your advice be to your teen self if you lived in Zambia as it is today?
“Every reason to not do something is an excuse. So stop sitting, waiting and asking for permission and approval to be great. Get up and do something!”
Growing up in Zambia as a female, you get told to tone it down (by other women)! “Be seen and not heard” they say. Even if you choose to rebel against this, it subconsciously affects you. These women were training us to be timid bashful wives before they trained us about girls running the world. So I really would focus on telling my teenage self to stop asking for permission to be who you want to be and focus on what you want to achieve – to not be afraid to go out and get it. If you do not know how to go out and get it, do not be afraid to ask for information. Do not hold yourself back, you deserve this. And everything happens for a reason, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
I was always afraid of making mistakes mostly because I grew up a goody two shoes who always did the right thing! When you get older you realise you hold back because you don’t want to upset or disappoint “them”.
I started taking more risks and making major decisions without permission or too much influence from outside opinions. I realised holding back and waiting for outside approval was not making me happy at all. I started to do things I wanted and stopped caring as much about how I would be perceived. Some decisions may not have been pleasing to others, but they have been great for me.
10. If you could have your dreams come true, how do you want your career to evolve?
If I could have my dream come true, my career would take more of a communications and PR focus. I wish to build the Zambian- African version of the Edelman PR firm. They say one must dream big 🙂
Thank you Dailesi for working so hard on this with me! In response to my long list of questions, Dailesi emailed, “I have re-read and edited this so many times that I, for the first time, am exhausted from talking about myself, haha. I took my time writing this and I appreciated the introspection. I was thinking about how much I enjoyed answering these questions and I hoped the person interviewing you was making this as enjoyable for you as well.” Yes, I loved, loved, loved, working with Marisa Shearer on my interview.