The Fear of Being Average: Chidadiso Mbazo & Kelly Mhishi in conversation

You never stop learning!

Facilitated by Alex Gwaze

Ever since I heard the phrase “a teachable moment” I have been looking for signs of it left, right and centre. A ‘teachable moment’ refers to a time when a person is most receptive to learning something. Often times these type of moments are unplanned and unlikely to occur again. Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion, such moments don’t always occur between a parent and their child, or a teacher and a student. They just happen in mundane situations, usually when two people really start listening to each other – rather than waiting for their turn to reply. I still haven’t found my distinctive teachable moment but I did manage to get an opportunity to facilitate and observe one in progress when aspiring poet / model Kelly Mhishi reached out to me and randomly asked me for a few pointers. Fortunately I was chatting with Chidadiso Mbazo at the time, and she knows more than I do about being a ‘poetic model’, plus she is round about the same age as Kelly.

Chidadiso Francesca Mbazo, or Chichie, is an artist, poet, writer, actress, podcaster and a model. She is the assistant Head Writer for I.B.R.A.H Magazine, a media reporter / host at the Bulawayo Arts News Online and she writes for Amplifying Girls Voices through the Digital Arts Magazine. In addition, she is the reigning Royal Miss Vithikazi Queen and she was a finalist at the Mr and Miss Albinism Zimbabwe and Miss Sizane pageants. Chichie also presents the Sunrise Leading Show and she co-hosted the #ILoveMsiz’kay Concert at the Bulawayo Mayor’s Christmas Cheer Fund. Furthermore, she is a disability rights Advocate and has worked with a number of NGOs that include Plan International, ZWIDE, FODPAZ and Save the Children, amongst others.

Kelly Mhishi is an aspiring model, page poet and spoken word artist. She has performed a number of times in different events that include ‘Warm up After Heartbreak’ and ‘Impromptu Wednesdays’ online platform. In addition, Kelly was the only Zimbabwean featured in the “Dear Violet” anthology (a collaboration between 98 writers from across the world with Fouwaz Parker and Ahmed Osman).

Chichie and Kelly had never met each other, so it was very interesting to see what someone who is willing to learn would garner from someone who is ready to share. In their conversation they talked about looking for attention, high school, breathing, make-up and experimenting.

KELLY: Hi Chi, I’m Kelly. I’m a poet, spoken word artist, novelist, model and a high school student.

CHICHIE: Hi Kelly. Nice to meet you. We have something in common. I started what I do in high school too.

KELLY: Oh wow! You do a lot of things. How is it like doing everything as one person? I mean, handling acting, modelling, spoken word and podcasting.

CHICHIE: Honestly, it’s hectic but it’s possible yaz. I don’t know how I do it but then at the end of the day everything gets done. Although doing so much means that there are times (a lot of times actually) when things clash and I’d have to choose. But I guess it’s all part of the process and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

KELLY: I also think it’s definitely possible. I feel like most people start to peruse their dreams in high school because I feel like there’s less pressure then. Then as they get older they have to choose what they build a career around.

CHICHIE: True. I feel as though our generation is more open to really trying out new things. You realize that back in the day the Arts industry wasn’t really a career parents would want their kids to pursue. Today we haven’t really reached that stage of parents totally agreeing to let their kids pursue an Arts career but they are sending them to college to learn more about it. However, the bulk of us are told “do your arts but have an education (degree, diploma) to back you up your passions. That’s when we get to a point where we find people pursuing the Arts but with a blue collar job, or a certain ‘legitimate’ profession they go to everyday.

KELLY: At least it’s changing for our generation and we have some options.

CHICHIE: It’s a transition from the old to the new and our generation is somehow caught in between the old guard and where the world is headed. But let’s not talk about that. Tell me about you. How did your poetry and modelling journeys start?

KELLY: (laughs) Yes let’s move on, it could get depressing (laughs). As for me, my poetry started when I was in primary. You know how we are forced to recite some poems in front of people (paAssembly) or on speech and prize giving days. I’d be chosen to recite all the time, so I saw that it’s definitely a talent in me – and that I need some guidance. So I started to write my poetry under the name the African poet and share it online. I started in Form 1 and up to this day, I tell you I love poetry and I feel like it’s the only way I know how to breathe.

CHICHIE: I think poetry’s relevance in everyday culture has been revived by this generation. For some it’s the only way they know how to express their emotions without being judged by others. People judge the poem not them.

KELLY: Maybe it’s because we are the texting generation. We love to communicate (laughs). And you Chi, what’s the inspiration behind everything you do?

CHICHIE: The fear of being average inspires me to do what I do (laughs). I want to do more, live more, be myself more. When I share my poems or post my pictures on social it’s all about self expression. Posting for most people is based on emotions. If I love a certain picture of mine, I’ll post it because it’s my favourite. If I excel in any area of my life I’m likely to post as a way of celebrating my wins. It’s not to show off but rather just expressing yourself and putting your emotions out there. Although I do acknowledge that we do have people that post just to show off.

KELLY: True, we live in an image heavy society. IG, profile pictures, statuses, photographs of food, parties and Tik Tok – it’s a lot. It has definitely made us more competitive because everybody wants to be the a social media queen, so they post stuff just to show off and make others envy. Or they start fights just to trend. That’s why some (especially girls) have gone an extra mile in terms of editing themselves, and always wearing make-up, being half naked all the time on social media – for attention. They want all eyes on them. We have definitely become too shallow because everyone is now wasting money on designer clothes, photo shoots, lavish weekends and stuff like that. Which I think is why some people go further and get plastic surgery because they all want to look a certain way. That social media competition is like peer pressure to look like someone else, not yourself. People don’t want to work toward expressing themselves more in other ways.

CHICHIE: I’ve seen the same thing in the modelling industry. I’ve just started modelling but I’ve met a number of girls who think they can make it in the industry simply because they’re pretty. But it’s hard work. For example, learning how to model in heels and do turns. For someone who didn’t struggle a lot with school and the other things I was doing, like poetry and writing, I think that was my worst experience yet. I spent an entire two months trying to perfect my walk and turns. It really took a lot from me. I even remember the first time I got intense training on my body posture, I spent almost a week with a sore back. Same thing happened when I started the catwalk training in stilettos (laughs). It hasn’t been easy but it’s been worth it.

KELLY: Modelling is something that I wanted to do since I was child. But I was always scared to try it out because you know growing up we’d be told a lot of different stories about models.

CHICHIE: Stories?

KELLY: You know stories like models are “loose”, they are “mischievous”, “they don’t have a future” (laughs).

CHICHIE: “Mischievous” (laughs). Interesting choice of words. But it’s because the nature of the job. By that I mean sometimes as a model you might get this gig that requires you to be in a bikini or lingerie. And then people come across those pictures and they immediately assume the worst. Same with being an actress and sex scenes. But it’s up to you to say yes or no to such work. You should never feel pressured to do something for money or to make people feel happy.

KELLY: Yes! I thought about getting into modelling for a long time but later I realized that it doesn’t really matter what people think or say, so I decided to go for what I love, despite what people think about me, I know who I am. And besides modelling demands a lot of attention to your image and reputation. Also about the heels, I’m a sneaker person so when I had to start walking in heels and all, it was so hectic. At the end of the day I’d have these leg pains. But I’ve also had the opportunity to advertise for some make-up brands so I didn’t have to do any walking.

CHICHIE: I agree you do need to pay attention to your reputation in this industry. Although I feel as though we have women who really do give models and actresses a bad name because of their actions. Looking at our society, we realize that if one or two models are involved in a scandal, sex tapes or whatever, every woman in the Arts is placed in the same bracket. Suppose we have a pageant queen who trended because to win she slept with one of the judges – they’ll paint the rest of the pageant queens with the same brush, even those who worked hard and won fairly.

KELLY: This topic is very controversial but I feel we have to get more women into positions of power to make such stories fewer.

CHICHIE: When women start to imagine their own pageants and acting roles, independent of the male gaze, we will start hearing new “stories” (laughs). But I feel that’s gonna be a really a long process because there are men and women who are already invested in the status quo.

KELLY: Very valid point. What I dislike is people thinking I do modelling because I want to be seen and adored (especially by the opposite gender). Like I’m out there attention seeking, or I think I’m very beautiful. You know when someone tells me “you’re beautiful”, it kinda motivates me. And I always feel like a queen after. But it also brings me to an understanding that beauty is not about how you look, it’s actually a mindset. I can only be desired by others only if I desire myself first. You know what I mean?

CHICHIE: Someone asked me “do I feel disabled because albinos are classified as disabled?” Aside from the fact that I’m short sighted, I don’t feel disabled. Such words and labels are limiting. For me being called beautiful, I suppose, it’s a compliment. I’m neutral about it really. I did a job for an eco fashion show and the feedback I got after from people was one of my best experiences.

KELLY: They say experience is the best teacher and as you mentioned before that our generation is all about trying out new things and experimenting. But we have to be open minded and realise that we have a lot to learn from others. Education is never ending and I’m also looking for constructive feedback. Because if we dig deeper into it, our modern day living is all about using your all of your talents to earn a living. These days you can’t stand on your two legs only, you have to have a second and third option. You have to use your head (what you learnt) and your hands as well. Thank you for taking some time to share with me what you’ve learnt.

CHICHIE: You are very welcome. Thank you for reminding me how I started. Let’s talk some more soon.

KELLY: Yes, lets.

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