Community, Life Stories

It Wasn’t Me

More often than not, people tend to lay blame away from themselves rather than facing their shortcomings. After introspection, I place blame on boarding school for my being overly-independent – sometimes- obstinate, occasionally reckless and teetering among the extremes of introversion, extroversion or plain depression. I want to complain about it; about how I was snatched from my mother’s bosom, too soon. I should have spent more time at home with the cows and chickens, learning more about cooking, but honestly, boarding school was one of the best experiences.

Since its inception, the Catholic Church has invested heavily in school infrastructure and in education. Unsurprisingly, I went to all Catholic schools from nursery school all through to high school. As a top performer, the assumed career path in this republic is a doctor or an engineer, but not with hematophobia and jading through math. Anyway, I am no doctor nor an engineer, as my classmates imagined. Clearly, life had other plans. I am meme lord and scribe, so stay entertained. It would have been a waste of 18 years of basic education to leave school, taught mostly in English, having failed to perfect at least one thing. Mine was English. Somehow, all of us, doctors, engineers, writers and meme lords can be useful members of society, if we grasp the opportunities that life throws at us.

In Geneva last year- the first of many times I’ll breath some fresh, French, air (before COVID-19 and re-inhalation of our toxic morning breath), they asked me that very question. How do you communicate this elaborately in English?” I said, “In Kenya, the school curriculum is set largely in English.” They also asked me my level of education and knowing me, this undergraduate was supplemented with the three or so applications I had made to study oppression and extra-judicial killing, before settling on Monitoring and Evaluation.  It is another degree I will probably never use. A little hyperbole helped the stiff conversation. If they would use English as a measure of the level of respect, then I earned it; that, plus the papers. Not to say that I am not back in school to look for them in the correct way, anyway.

The schools I went, lacked the oomph of Wahome Mutahi’s “ The Ghost of Garbatula”. Except this one time we had cases of “devil worship and forced Catholic liberalism with some Uganda Martyrs in high school. The rest of it was books, sports, music and drama. I found our high school a more relaxed than primary school,on the imposition of church practices. At least here, nobody made us recite the rosary every evening, seven days a week, whether we were sick or dying.

Having been brought up in a protestant home, I would have gravitated towards Christian Union and as a school leader, I was appointed as a church usher, for reasons I am yet to understand to this day. It is a role I never performed not even once. On a normal Sunday I would go to The Catholic Church. This was because mass was one and a half hours shorter than the Christian Union meeting, we had the same priest from form one to form four and he never shouted in church. I also loved drumming and just how structured mass was. It would also afford me the one hour I needed in the art room to create one two items that were both colourful and different.

One Saturday evening in form two, I overindulged in reading a forbidden novel and forgot to do my laundry for the week. I would have given the excuse of Saturday television but since childhood, TV never intrigued me. The one time I had watched television in high school earned me a one-month ban from the TV room for overstaying. I swore to never get in trouble for anything so trivial and 12 years later, nothing has changed.

Came Sunday morning, assembly and later, church. I had to apply the physics of the centrifuge but thick cotton is thick. My wet, navy blue skirt graduated just slightly, to a damp skirt. My memory falls short of owning a kamisi after 12 but that Sunday, I did wear a one. As a hockey player who always wore minute skirts to the pitch, a biker too was available. The equation was balanced by mothers’ union. I was ready to pray until the tongues of fire in Acts of the Apostles befell the entire school. Mass began and Father Francis went, “In the name of the Father, the Son… and by the time he got to “and the Holy Spirit, … I was asleep.”

oops…

I was woken up by the rambling of Brenda Paul. She had sung so wonderfully in my sleep, but I felt the mood change. Brenda still is the only other person in this world who is louder than me. After the music, she said, “mh, someone here smells like old books; there is this horrid smell of dampness that is choking me, wasichana mbona hamuogangi? (Girls, why don’t you bathe)?”

My senses were awakened! Yes, it was not old books, it was me. Having doubled over, and nearest to the source, the acridity tore through my nostrils. It must have been the boiled egg from Sunday breakfast. It had done its work and done it well. It all made sense now, that that huge relief I had felt during my sleep, was not the bliss of a child’s dream, but from my nether muscles, well stretched from doubling over in forbidden sleep, letting up. That fart wasn’t the loud ones, no. It had hissed through four filters and the moisture of the skirt therefore turning into old books

Girls recoiled and called God’s name. They scampered to extreme ends of the pew and I too moved with one of the groups. Victimization would emerge from identification of the culprit. Of course the narrative would be around haogangi (she does not bathe) but honestly, I used to take a minimum of two baths a day in school.  I moved with them because it was not in my place to be the one left in the island of my own noxiousness. That would be declaring my culpability. It wasn’t me, just biology and perhaps some misplaced sleep.

It was time for the greetings part of mass, I smiled and greeted everyone that was near enough. They fanned themselves and covered their noses with sleeves of their pullovers. I continued to pass the greetings of the Lord because he invented diffusion for days such as this. I eventually did turn to Brenda to let her know that my skirt was damp and as expected, she went ballistic. To this day, she still is one of my favourite persons.

I cannot blame the incident on boarding school but on the fact that I had slept when it was disallowed. I cannot blame Brenda for calling out my flatulence, but myself for falling to take enough water. I cannot blame the girls for sitting next me, because you do not choose your neighbours, unless of course you are Bill Gates and can afford to buy them out. I cannot blame the Catholic Church nor the school because anyway, my marks in primary school had guaranteed me that seat there. Next time you want to place blame on other people saying, “It wasn’t me”, just remember that you are accountable to yourself first, then to everyone around you. Anyway, one teenager somehow survived the pomposity of their own buttocks.

Community

Thou Shalt Not Pass!

At 5:37 a.m. 8th June 2020, sleep escaped me. I woke up, groped in the darkness around my bed looking for my phone to pick up the mehmehs from where I left off last night. That would take around 7 minutes of precious time, to reorient the brain to the waking world. This was followed by a warm, daily cup of water, emptying my bowels and gearing up for a morning run. See now, that is the problem with coming from a bloodline of potatoes. Everything we eat accumulates in sections of the body where it is not supposed to. Unfortunately, the rules of God do not allow prayer geared towards losing weight or rather, I was never taught to pray about weight loss. My folk and I therefore are forced to run. We are sprinters, but sprinting in Nairobi will get you mistaken for a thief, which could resort in being shot from the back.

Kenya Police officers really have the least of cares. I noticed this when I enrolled to a Master’s course in Security Management and Police Studies.  This  had nothing to do with my prior training in International Relations, nor in communications. The officers in my class, well, the course would help them grow their careers in the force (service), if the wakubwas placed a favourable eye upon them. Promotions in the Kenya Police force based on academic merit on its own is comme ci comme ca. These officers were accomplished, yet angry, because of ingrained unfairness. Vile, is what you become, when life deprives you the pleasures of living it to its fullness.

On a normal day, I jog along Thika Road. The distance from my house, across the Muthaiga footbridge and back would translate to an estimated 9 kilometres. Running for me is refreshing. It has made me see why children in the thousands will leave the murk of Mathare, both the slum and the better areas just to have this breathe of bloom. It is of course ruined by the disruptions of the nduthi riders and the fumes from countless vehicles in the morning commute into Nairobi town. How I wish we would explore ways to mitigate this one- directional movement, some of which would be the migration of jobs and businesses away from the supposed Central Business District, so that people can work within the estates or better yet, use derivatives from the COVID- 19 period that working from home is doable and not everyone needs to be in an office for work to be done.

This material morning, I joined the hundreds of young people jogging along the road. Apparently, there are people who wake up early for it and at 6 a.m. I was one of the late entrants. The people I saw teemed with the vibrancy of youth. A majority of them had proper gear and were dressed for exercise. I saw crocs, sandals, cheap handheld music players, skipping ropes and a lot of sweat. There was laughter, the blithe of youth. Across the National Youth Service Headquarters and outside the now closed Utalii Hotel and College is space. Groups of these young people stretched, counted sit-ups, leg lifts and skipped their ropes. On a normal day, runners would be on either side of the road. That morning, the ground had curiously shifted to the left side. That is where we all were. Those people were neither rioting, looting, committing crime, making noise nor bothering anyone. They were living the morning, free from the struggles of the slum.

If I said that the compulsory face masks lack prominence in this crowd, then that is the only thing Kenya Police would read. They would discard everything else in this publication, infer from this part alone and begin arresting children. By God, we would go down en masse. These youths are aware of the existence of COVID-19, at least the media lets them know. Anyway, they are home because of the (in)existence of it. Of course the Kenya Government needed to tap into the grants and loans available to nations afflicted with the virus, so whether it is here or not, they had to impose living in a state of emergency, just as if the virus has ravaged our populace. Kenyans, as I know us, will do nothing but yield to the will of our masters, us, woeful folk.

I usually run up Muthaiga Footbridge, cross to the other side, run down the steps and along the road, just to complete the circle. At the very top of the stairs, that morning, someone waved a swagger in my face. A swagger is a thin stick held by police officers or officers of rank as a part of their regalia. I looked up to see an oily face in a mask, of a supposed police officer in plain clothes. He was with two others. He did not identify himself and went on to say, “madam, hakuna kufanya zoezi kwa footbridge”. He was in my way yet other people were crossing the footbridge. He was loud. Knowing me, if you are loud, then I am loud as well, we meet other at the top and come down together. I asked him why? He said that we, the joggers, were  going to the footbridge to have public sex, in the name of exercise. Amidst the fracas, this “officer” quickly turned to a young man who had crossed from the other side. He swung his electricity cord and hit the youth, squarely on the buttocks. Poor child. The young man ran back across but I stood my ground.

The officer turned back towards me and realized that I was still standing there. He repeated, “madam hakuna kuvuka. Nyinyi ndio mnaleta watoto hapa kutombana wakisema wanakimbia (you are the ones bringing children here to have sex claiming that they are exercising). Those words shot my temperature over the roof.  First of all, I have no children; specifically, none I have sired with him or with anyone. Secondly, me, Nyambura, wake up at 5:37 a.m, leave the warmth of my bed, run to Muthaiga to go get fucked at a footbridge? The next question to him was, officer, ni wangapi tumezaa na wewe nikawaleta hapa kutombwa? (Officer, how many children have I sired with you to bring to the bridge for sex?) He said madam “nitakutandika!”( I will beat you up!) I replied, “it is my constitutional and human right against any form of violence.” I specifically added “against corporal punishment”, not sure if it is mentioned anywhere in the constitution or the bill of rights, but that alone calmed him down.

He then continued talking and I told him that I would listen to him no more, on grounds of he being loud and rude, but to his colleagues, who had their act together. The two other officers were kind and sensible, I did yield and turn back, go down the same stairs and use the same route back to my house. The run back home got me thinking about the history of the Muthaiga Police Station.

The Nairobi Master-plan formulated during colonial Kenya, highlights the paradox of fragmentation based on race. The segregation in Nairobi was not only in living, but also working quarters. This resulted in the emergence of servant quarters in the white-owned homes, that were designed specifically for the African worker. They deprived these Africans the luxuries available in the main houses, which was inhabited by the whites and their families. It is also the sole reason I will never rent a servants’ quarter. Despite Africans constituting 60% of the Nairobi population in 1944, Asians being 30% and 10% being European, the allocation of land for development of living quarters gave 1/8 to the Africans, ¼ to the Asians and the rest to the Europeans.

With the exception of Muthaiga which is to the North of Nairobi, Europeans settled in the West and near the city Centre, in areas such as Upperhill, Westlands and a little further in Kilimani and Lavington. More Europeans amassed tracts of land in Langata and Karen. On the other hand, African settlements were established towards the Eastern side, Kariokor for retired soldiers, Kariobangi, Huruma, Dandora and the like. Asians took up Pangani, Parklands Ngara and others. When the Europeans left after independence, the Asians moved to occupy the formerly white areas and the Africans took on some of the Asian areas like Pangani. Streets such as Biashara Street are an example of Asian Business quarters, while others such as River Road were reserved for African traders. Muthaiga Police Station was established where it stands today, to keep the Africans of Mathare from crossing over to the Muthaiga side. On this day, 76 years since 1944, I, Nyambura and 1000 other Africans from Mathare were denied passage to the Muthaiga side!

Now, oh great and mighty Kenya Police, we are very dejected that the crowns on your heads are still beneath the heavy and stinking bottoms of our colonial masters. That ridiculous guy from Muthaiga Police Station you posted atop the footbridge without any identification besides a swagger, electricity cord, a big stomach and foul language is an embarrassment to your force (read service).

You should be aware that we, the young joggers of Mathare will not cross that footbridge to protest the issue of race, no. It will be a march against discrimination for being poor. We will march because you the police are a part of systemic failure that traverses policing, going back to an education system that has ignored sex education, but makes religious education compulsory. We will cross to protest against the failure of the government to tap into the potential of these young people whose lives and futures lie bleak and blackened by the slum. If our young people are having sex on a footbridge, have you looked at the bottom 2/3 of the iceberg to establish why they are? If they are, why not arrest those allegedly having sex in public and let the rest of us be?

We will cross that footbridge to protest against a government that has historically sought to profit from the slum economy through the millions of dollars poured in by your colonizers in the name of poverty alleviation. We will cross to protest against the macro economy created from the sale of small household items, in these very slums. We are not reliving Selma. That is a chapter of history that was crossed, but instead of going where they send you to protect billionaires properties, you are there using your energy to deny myself and others passage across  public property, just because we are doing the things we do to kick-start our day.

Kenya Police, Muthaiga Police Station, before you implement alleged directives blindly, please refer to your history, it might as well save us all from the wiles of modern day colonialism and your sheer foolishness.

Uncategorized

Peers; 90 to Life

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I know one very happy marriage which begun with, “Wangechi, ruugiira ndirica.” These are a people marking 30 years in marriage this year, never once separated. They have brought up and educated their children together midst work obligations, massive personality differences, long distance work commitments and disparities in income, opportunities and educational levels.

They have grown together, borne with each other, teamed up against external interference, shelved their individuality and family disparities and synergized to establish a fruitful, happy and enviable relationship and marriage, for 30 short years. Altogether, is it love? Kindness? Patience? Reverence for each other? Perseverance? How good can they be at or how good are they at pretending at it that we are unable to in these times?

I peer at our generation and wonder what we are. At what in love and chivalry changed for us that embellishes our skills in barefaced lying. In deception. In conning. In keeping a multiplicity of conversations, in selfishness, in gratuitous instant gratification; at the expense of the people we have entrusted with our hearts. Why do we exploit the faith they have in us? Have we failed in love? Can we not love? Do we not know love?

In the words of Paul in 1st Corinthians 13: 4-7 he writes, “love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast; it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, nor easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.” Here, Paul sets the bar higher than this generation wants.

This generations want to use. We want to gain evocatively and give nothing earnest in return. We want to realize our carnality discounting the costs to our moral standing and the impact on those we are entangled with. We want to normalize emotional fraud. Treachery. We want our relationships to be driven by vileness and spite. We are judge, jury and executioner over those we claim to “love.” We rejoice in their failure. We delight in their doubt. We bloom on stimulating their inner fear. We disrepute our partners. We do not illustrate love. We do not love. We are our undoing.

Let us take a little time to make known, the slightest of virtue that is within us. Let us make an authentic attempt at sincerity because we can. Let us give ourselves a chance at healing beginning with conceding that we have wronged first and have been wronged and that way, we can forgive. Let us admit that we have flaws, which must always be dazed by our strengths. Let us learn to love truly and have just a stint of faith that we can receive that same in a full measure. Let us prove to Wangechi that she did not jump through the window 30 years ago in vain.

Supplementary and translation: Wangechi ruugiira ndirica happened when a young couple was eloping. The man simply told the lady (Wangechi) to jump through the window of her mother’s house resulting in 30 years of a happy marriage at this point and a bunch of noisy children.

Community, Life Stories

Simeon: It Wasn’t Meant to Be(ll)

In the wisdom of my grandfather, “young men may die, but old men must die”. A very old man died. It was a surprise he had lived that long. He died from a disease of the loins. The disease ate up his flesh to the point that at his end, his once vivacious body lay wasted. He was skeletal, with eyes sunken into their sockets, his cheekbones gaping. He stank, self-starved and isolated. He died in the dark, irked by light, cheerless, surrounded by his tired children and one friend, the oldest living person in Kiriua, the village of the sun.

Simon preferred to be addressed by his English name. He insisted on an additional ‘e’ in between to give it a French twist. He neither spoke English nor French and the best he could say in English was “Wanjiru, brek snek’ (black snake)”. That is how he called his late wife Wanjiru.” That is how he loved her, with a slap, a kick and jibes. He liked to remind her that she was fearfully and wonderfully made, the fearfully bit emphasised. He advised her often that he would get another and that her children and herself would starve. Wanjiru was a good wife. Simon knew that. He had exploited the secret to longevity, which is marrying a good wife; a wife who would birth continuously, persevere in love, never question. A woman who would make their home.  Wanjiru died early. She had to. Death emancipated her from Simon; from gloom and a loveless union.

Simon had seen better days. He was a tallish man, with features teetering between attractive and distasteful, depending on the time of day he had been seen. When he was in the farm, where the best he could do was cuss his hapless offspring, his sun-run face became ominous. In the evening while in the company of the men for the daily dose of meat which was otherwise unavailable to his wife and children, Simeon looked best. He looked so, not because of the company, but because of the meat. He never touched alcohol and he shunned women. He had had several extra-marital affairs which amounted to four abhorrent children. Three of them were killed in a motor vehicle accident, while the fourth developed liver cirrhosis and died painfully. He missed none of them.

As he grew older his outfit of choice became a pin-stripe suit and an orange scarf, more like they do at the billionaires’ club. He had two suits made when he was working gwa thingira (Sinclair) a colonialist who owned a plantation in what is now Kabete. Like a majority of the men in the village, he would go missing during the emergency period not as a freedom fighter as is most known, but as a way of escaping the numerous roles that came with too many children. He had to educate each and feed them too. Investing in a girls’ education to him was unheard of. Girls would be married off and benefit the homes they went, at the expense of his.

One day he threw one- two stones at a nyapara (colonial police) in Nairobi. It earned him 9 years at the Hola Concentration Camp, after being transferred from Kangubiri. He left his wife Wanjiru unprotected and needy. She had to look for a male figure to calm the fire of the midriff and offer protection to her and the children. That is how Jane and Boniface were born. They resembled the neighbour from the fourth home, Kimani.

The emergency period ended, the concentration camps closed down, people left icaagi (villages) and the land was sub-divide to the communities. This was after the Maumau Rebellion won against the mzungu (the white man) and Kenya gained independence. Gwa Singira (Sinclair’s) had closed down and Simon, failing to gain any meaningful profession in Nairobi, resorted to go back home. After all, he had land to his name.

On arriving home, he realized he had left 6 children but returned to eight. Two of them resembled his fourth neighbour. Simon beat Wanjiru to pulp then dedicated a large part of his life to his boys’ club for meat and ox-tail soup. The rest of the time he spent in church administration and in the now established farmers’ cooperative coffee factory. These would provide him money for meat and soup. The church coffers became his personal kitty.

One day in 1976, long after independence and in a bid to be re-elected as the chairman to the church committee, Simon made a pledge that most congregants needed. He pledged that as soon as he was re- elected, he would erect a bell tower with a bell so big it would be heard from Jirongo. The bell would be so loud; it would wake even the traditionalists from murimo wa Tambaya (Tambaya ridge). It would ring so loudly; that arogi a mainganiro (the witches from Mainganiro) would convert to Christ. The new bell would be kiirorerwa (a marvel). They would no longer engage in ngimano (fights) in the church as the bell would spur the spirit of unity. This pledge and famous speech earned him 179 out of 181 votes. Apparently his competitor, a teacher, only received his own vote and that of his wife. It was done. They would have a bell! The congregants cheered, sold their belongings and dedicated their daily wages to the construction of the bell tower. The work for the Lord began.

They hired a contractor from the municipality who worked as an engineer in the ministry of works in Nyeri town. He was also a DDO (Daily Drinking Officer) and could function best only under the influence of mung’ari (local brew). The contractor was prayed for and dedicated, to cleanse him from the sins of alcoholism. They did the ground-breaking and in six months, the bell was delivered. Simon had never seen a church bell and neither had the contractor engaged in a project of that magnitude. The contractor also never allowed the congregants to access the site on grounds of structural integrity and safety risks it posed. It was completed after eight long months. The climax would be the day of the unveiling.

20 goats were slaughtered. Three fattened bulls dropped and a lot of bread was delivered. There would be a feast. People would soak in bread, meat and soup. They would celebrate the accomplishment of the 8th wonder of the world, the bell. They brought a pair of tailor’s scissors set on a shiny platter to cut the tape. That day, the preacher only quoted verses in the Bible that had ngengere (bell). He preached from Exodus 28:33-34. He mentioned 1st Corinthians 13:1, he denoted 1st Samuel 18:6. There was singing and dancing and praying. The bell was upon them. Their lives would never be the same again.

The tape was cut… the tower door was opened. Simeon had the onus of ringing the bell as the first person, before they found a dedicated church boy bell-ringer. In front of the entire congregation, their guests, the community and a few prominent people he yanked the rope with all the strength he could muster. The bell rang; it let out only tiniest ting ever heard. Something like the pop sound of hydrogen burning in a test tube. A sound less than a fallen lid when you are stealing meat from your mother’s pot. It rang in a whisper, like it had a bad throat. It rang like a jingle bell up on the Christmas tree. It was like not more than two decibels.

No more than three people heard it, for it rang only for those below it. They must have heard wrong. He jerked the rope one more time. This time it did nothing. It just stood there on its high tower, as if it was on strike. Simeon in anger said, “ino ni ngengere-ii, ti kaba mbugi ya thenge” (is this a bell even, I’d rather the bell on a he-goat). He walked out, closed the door and declared the project a disaster. He would deal with the contractor once the feast was completed. After all there was meat and bread to eat. The feast was on.

He lived 42 years more, the bell haunted him each day. His bell was removed and a good bell installed, one year later. His bell was never heard from Jirongo. It never woke the traditionalists of Murimo wa Tambaya, nor bring arogi a Mainganiro to Christ. It did not prevent ngimano as there are a few prominent fights we will feature soon. His bell was not kiirorerwa. It was disposed and forgotten, just like his name, Simon with an “e” in between. Let us have a moment of silence for both. They were never meant to be(ll).

Life Stories

8 AM: The Mountain of Fire and Thunder

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Volcano Mountain by Bella Deesse 2nd April 2015

Sunday is probably the wrong day to share these thoughts, but again, the intention is to spur more Kenyans to conduct their house- hunting on Sundays, around 8 am. If you ever come across the perfect house and unfortunately there is a church or churches as your immediate neighbours, run. Run! If impossible, then ensure that is near a mabati church or one with a tin roof; just somewhere you can play devils advocate through mischief while they worship. Close enough, send your black cat to finish the devil’s bidding, if it ever makes it out alive. Unfortunately, I am those Kenyans who house- hunted on Tuesday at 11 am. I am suffering on behalf of you all so, heed.

Our apartment neighbours a church, Mountain of Fire and Thunder and at Sunday 8 am, all hell breaks loose. Sister Jackie in the long, tight skirt and a padded biker underneath begins her spiritual and vocal press-ups at the microphone. She is in preparation for the arrival of her spiritual ‘dad and mom.’ The ‘dad and mom’ are from Nigeria. They have established their lives here and gathered an abundant flock locally, who tithe their way into payment of rent for a whole apartment floor which is the church, maintenance of two Toyota Prado and palatial home in Garden Estate. The Nigerians have named their church Mountain of Fire and Thunder, as if anyone would survive an actual volcano. The imagery of that thunderous mountain manifests every Friday of the month, every youth kesha, every lunchtime, every men’s conference, every women’s conference, every Sunday, every family day, every national holiday, every day- all day; every darn time. After all, they must worship the holy of holies in spirit and in truth, saying “Holy”. The noise simply is impossible in this realm, but here we are.

At 8am, Kamau wa Piano who has been at it all weekend, is trying to see which chord on his keyboard will work with the voice of brother John of praise and worship. John’s vocal range is nowhere within the octave Doh Re Mi to the upper Doh in the normal musical keyboard. That exact time, the infallible Mama Onyi, who lives in a single room with the eight grown sons from four baby daddies, drags the multicoloured, plastic seats around for her Sunday school class that meets in the corner just next my abode. Mama Onyi was once the talk of the church after the fourth failed marriage. They felt that she needed more of Jesus and sex- education than Bible School, with emphasis on the topic of contraception and withdrawal. She hums tunelessly to bits of Kumbaya as the fake gold bracelets clink against each other, her exaggerated turban struggling to stay on her head as her forehead discharges beads of sweat. The Nigerian kitenge is a must-have for her as a departmental head. She is a poor imitation of her spiritual mum through appropriating the Nigerian’s mode of dressing; only that her choice of material and tailor is levels below that of Bishop’s wife whose lifestyle she unknowingly finances. It is now Sunday 8:30 am. The spirit has begun moving.

Sister Jackie falls into a spiritual trance at the microphone amidst the competition between the pianist and the lead singer. She yells out a long incoherent statement with a little of abracadabra, “Baba wa Mbinguni” and breathy “yes Lords”. She beseeches the good Lord to forgive her sins and to keep her pure least she is swallowed by the wiles and deeds of the devil. Jackie prays for the forgiveness of her sins, her generation’s and for those of her ancestors. She even prays for the unborn children and for the process of making them. Her prayers are interminable. She kneels, then cries. We are left to listen to her sniffles over breakfast, just when the mayonnaise hits the vegetable salad. We are displeased.

Makau wa drums has just made an entry albeit late. His role in the choir is to set the pace for the gyration, clapping and singing. He has a knack for crowd control and can sense when to transition from praise to worship. He feels when the exhaustion from the jumping and shouting grips and the vocal cords of the love of his life Jackie can go no further. on the other end of the band, Kamau wa Piano has recently discovered that his Chinese keyboard has a feature for beats and tempo. He must prove Makau’s irrelevance and facilitate his consequent expulsion from the church for sexual misdemeanour. Both Makau and Kamau have been eying Jackie. Jackie has shared the holy cookie jar with Makau, but Kamau can hear none of it. Kamau wants Jackie all for himself. He has dreams about their white wedding; the mooing of the cows and the women’s ariririri since Jackie first set foot in his bedsit where they drank divine tea. He can see his happy ever after on her knees praying about their sins. He peers at her round, arched behind and solemn bosom. This raises an immediate ache in his loins and thank God for the keyboard, nobody gets to see Kamau’s protuberance, where the sun never shines. It is now 9:30 am.

At 10 am, Bishop swaggers in with his missus in the tail as they smile, wave and shake their white clothes at the congregants who are now deep in lurid reverence. The clapping becomes louder as do the shouts. The pianist tries to exceed the singer in his rendition of Cha Kutumaini Sina as the drummist bangs the timpani in hallowed muddle. A few brothers drop and roll, as the deacon waves his white handkerchief and wipes off his sweaty brow. The children, if not petrified, cry at the facial expressions of the parents or opt to hide under the long skirts. Some huddle in the Sunday school corner, which is less noisy and has a little bit of air. It also offers them a chance at peeking outside. The room lacks air conditioning and the windows exude an array of smells, among them cheap perfume and lotion, stale sweat, raw sex, damp clothes, old wigs and dusty books. The service is full-blown. We the neighbours are bearing the brunt of the abysmal choice of residence. It is time to brainstorm.

Sarah of house number 51 has a smaller balcony. In her former life she lived miserably but is possessive and is not ready to let go of the items from her former house. Her balcony is always in existential crisis and is dusty to the roof. She neighbours the Altar and pulpit of Mountain of Fire and Thunder and worst affected by the church. Her infant no longer has the peace and quiet a night offer as they have a speaker facing her window. In house number 52, Jose with the muscles and a chain of women, neighbours the congregation just near where the older women sit. He is always on a constant high of adrenalin, oxytocin, weed and other unnameables. Mama Blessing in 53 is a bit lucky, she has the least noise but neighbours the toilet of the church. Her problem is that they directed the ventilation from the toilet so near her rear door and with the frequent blockages, she must live with the smell and sight of raw sewer, every day, worse off on Sundays. I am in 54, just outside the children’s corner. Apparently, everyone but me has brewed some sort of revenge that might end up with their souls in eternal damnation from the a collective negative prayer by the church.

Last month, Sarah tossed a load of used diapers across the balcony during service. The deacon was most affected as one landed squarely on his face. That Sunday, the service was dedicated to Sarah, they prayed that she be forgiven and that the spirit of malice be exorcised from her. The speaker blared louder and asked her to come to church and accept Christ as her personal saviour. Sarah heard none of those calls as she was far gone at Uhuru Park Sunday afternoon outing, to chew grass. Jackie made the altar call and was mandated to seek Sarah out as her weekly mission.

Three Sundays ago, we heard more shindwe pepo chafu and roho ya umalaya itoke than ever before. Apparently, Jose and his woman (the 7th that week) had saturated his house with weed and when the sexual tension became too much, they took it to the balcony, much to the awe and revulsion of the congregants who called upon thunder and lightning to strike their sins first and both revelers, who were drowning in sin. Under the influence of those substances, the two did not stop. They came back to their senses when Jose was struck by one of the bricks on the forehead and ran back in. However, we were left wondering about who carries bricks and stones and sticks to 5th floor and particularly to church. When the hail of items settled, Jose’s balcony was full of sticks, slippers a pile of stones and 4 red bricks. I thought the Lord protects his own especially in His house, of Fire and Thunder…

Mama Blessing of 53 apparently had had enough of the toilet and decided that all the ash from her jiko would be dumped across the balcony and specifically into the church toilet, twice a week and especially on Sunday when she was sure that there would a soul in that toilet, every minute. Last Sunday, we heard a loud scream during service. An ashy and agitated congregant shook her fist in the children’s corner and cursed the hauler of ash into the toilet. Apparently Mama Ble had used hot ash and a piece of charcoal had stuck onto the congregants wig and with the wig’s hairsprayed, the charcoal had started a little fire that was put out by the removal and stomping of the wig.

Here in number 54 today would have been my turn, but I am a law-abiding citizen. I am left wondering first, if Kenyan law or NEMA only works in well-to-do neighbourhoods, or the village where there is distinction between residential areas and where social amenities should be. My house is placed strategically, just where the children’s corner is. My black cat and I live our best lives, but the noise is profoundly exasperating, more so when the children sing Father Abraham in reverse. We listen to Mama Onyi telling them how they should remain pure and wait for the Lord to provide their needs as good boys and girls. We roll our eyes when she advises the teenagers to abstain from sexual indulgence and to look up to her and Mrs Bishop as role models. The Mountain of Fire and Thunder has driven me to sleep- deprivation and some sort of psychosis, just like my neighbours, whom I genuinely sympathise with. Now that they have set up a speaker facing my balcony at the Children’s corner and ruined my chances at peaceful sleep, I have a feeling that next Sunday, I will lounge at my balcony just outside the children’s corner, naked.

Community

Maria’s Big Bathroom Break

South American soap operas have for a long time been part of the myriad of reasons many Kenyans attempt at beating rush hour traffic. They arrive home, drop a bra, expel the over-worn wig, put on the Kibaki tosha na NARC t-shirt and sweat pants and lounge on a couch or bed in their bedsits. At this juncture I need to deify the part of a bedsit in the life of the Kenyan just beginning life, because last week in Nairobi, one gruesome Kenyan told the rest of us to drive our bedsit sink to work. Eventually, a number of Kenyans either was stranded in town in the evening, thus missing their favorite episodes of the hottest soap operas, or followed them through streaming online. We have the advancement of technology to thank.

Nonetheless, these Kenyans, when at home and in the comfort of loose clothes will warm last night’s leftovers or serve them cold, then lounge to follow a long and winding tale of love and romance between Marias and Alejandros. I watched the first soap opera, Maria de Los Angeles in 1999. She had a fluid dark mane and a beautiful, succulent chest. I am trying to remember if I saw her behind but it probably escaped me since her kind of chest was what I wanted for myself, but here we are. I reckon that women in this day are undergoing thorax and derrière patch ups advanced enough to offer the client liberty to shop for very specific measurements, but that is a tale for another day.

The Kenyan TV industry has taken us through an emotional roller-coaster by bringing us: Todo sobre Camilla, La Tormenta en El Paraiso, Cuando Seas Mia, Cuidado con el angel, Ana, Unforgivable, Rubi, Teresa, Muchacha Italiana, Simplemente Maria, Triunfo Del Amor, Corona Lagrimas, La Gata, Double Kara, in no particular sequence. These series have been so much a part of our evening lives, even resulting in songs like “Paloma” by Kamau wa Turacco, who in his wisdom, cajoles Paloma to take a night flight and escape her murderous aunt Carlotta, then move in with him in Nairobi’s Ruai. In the song, he refers from the soap, En Nombre Del Amor.

In this day, we are lucky to still be on our feet after bombardment left, right and center with tanned, Spanish macho men soothing us sore through English voice-overs. We were consumed by ogling at William Levy (Alejandro or Maximilliano), his smolder face and smooth chest. We loathed David Zepeda with his perfectly assembled eyebrows and piercing eyes. We died over Santos and his ripped shirts, and resurrected in glory with Sebastian Rulli’s (also Alejandro’s) money. We plotted with Angelique Boyer (Teresa) and Barbara Mori (Rubi); we cried with Maite Perroni (in all her roles as a sweet innocent girl) and wreaked havoc with Leticia Calderón as evil aunt Carlota Espinoza de los Monteros. For one moment there, television gives Kenyans unity of purpose, which is to finish these enticing series and discuss the prior evening’s proceedings during tea breaks at work.

Now, those who know me well know that television is an insignificant component of my day. This is because the good Lord above denied me a concentration span exceeding ten minutes but they usually are an intense 10 minutes. I prefer to sleep or to read a book. It is earnest to highlight however that in my 19 years as an intermittent Alejandro ogler, I have never seen the lady protagonist take a bathroom break. I am not talking about a club or expensive hotel bathroom breaks that have her with her girls with their lipstick and powder at the mirror, no.

Girl reading in Bathroom ,Milan, Italy (1997) Image by Ferdinando Scianna https://www.artsy.net/artwork/ferdinando-scianna-girl-reading-in-bathroom-milan-italy

I am talking about post- taco and barbecue chicken with coke kind of bathroom break. Closer home, I am talking about post- chapo nne, madondo na uji kind of bathroom break. This discourse in on a post- matoke, sizzling beef and yoghurt kind of toilet break, where Maria has to march out of the chalice of fiery romance with Jorge, lest she renders everyone unconscious when sweet old hydrogen sulphide is freed from the depths of her gut. The kind of bathroom break that cannot wait a second longer before thioacetone is released from the pits of her being; scattering guests, naysayers and any terrorist group. As a realist and ardent admirer of the human body and its functions, I have waited for a moment as this since 1999. Telemundo has failed to avail these scenes and therefore, I have ceased to indulge in this vain affair as an unimpressionable adult until further notice.

In my not so very humble opinion, of course without trying to offend anyone, I will watch Telemundo series again when I hear that Maria had diarrhea. Meanwhile, let us give Maria a break; A bathroom break.

Life Stories

Rungs and Lessons; 26.

There is no better way to celebrate life than to be thankful. Thankful for life, for the good things, the lessons and those that dared walk the journey by our side. I am at the point where women mention their age while adding the word “only”, accentuated by a call from my father reminding me that I am a child, no more. For example, I am “only” 26, let us proceed. Life has been kind and as well as interesting, I will take you back to as far as I can remember and of course in light of daily negativity, we will paint the highlights because anyway, the greater deal is always what is left to imagination.

I was born the third of four children in a Christian home up the mountains to a teacher of art and a teacher of English. As a child, the mountain appealed to me, day as well as night riveted me; conflict especially about coffee daunted my child’s mind and the absence of wildlife except the malevolent gazelle boggled me. Mugomo wa Mwarimu (Teachers’ Strike) of 1997 which had Kamothos’ name thrown back and forth enticed me. Nevertheless, I never went up the mountain in my Reeboks; I was told it was far. The conflict over the coffee mill waned when the Mikigi let the Kamatusas construct their own factory and for wildlife; I hear the hyenas registered a Sacco synergizing for community wellness and Jothefu and his son caught the gazelle, called for a village feast to which we were uninvited. Day and night were explained through school and Mugomo wa Mwarimu must continue. Our latrine was outside, somewhere far from the mud- walled house we lived in and while in the company of mother one starless night in 1996, I saw an elephant. A scream from the neighbourhood at the same instance confirmed my resourcefulness and we frantically ran back into the safety of the house.

I swear mother left me behind because first, her skirt flew in my face then I saw her figure disappear in the distance. I was left alone with my elephant and we were truly struck by how my urine dispersed back into the body. I no longer requested her company to relieve myself again that night. Anyway, the screams came from Wajuu, the village drunkard who in his stupor and lurid croon had staggered upon Karoki’s burning shop in the middle of the night, alerting the village. I should have gone to that latrine at least, as my elephant was just a heap of sand that had been ferried into the compound a few days before, which my mind was yet tog register. I am yet to see an elephant to this very day nonetheless and I am not very sure if mother trusts me or my mind’s eye, 22 years on.

School was pleasurable from a tender age and although I dreaded waking up early and the cold baths, it was where I made the best of friends and most memories. While learning to read father brought home a book from a children’s collection with the words “here” and “there.” With the blood of my ancestors, I could only manage to pronounce them as THERE and HERE as you would if you read them in Kiswahili. He pinched my nose painlessly but the tears were fuelled by the ceaseless laughter by my elder siblings. I knew from that moment that embarrassment was a disease I would never predispose myself to ever again, until our parents travelled to Kampala for vacation and the two rascals ate the honey and pinned it on me. It was my first lesson on the ills of democracy, where a wrong majority can impose malevolence on a correct minority. I did receive the thrashing of the millennium, which taught me two lessons. The first: an African child can live through anything. The second, it is impossible to hate your sibling as we still are the best of friends.

I struggled to write number 5 as I do to this day from nursery school and my handwriting never got beyond legible. My 7 to 13 presented computers and the first real library which had access to ‘The World Encyclopaedias A-Z’. I also owned my first Bible, dictionary and atlas. I wanted to travel; to see all. They had written about the Kalahari, the winds took me there. I had read Truphena the City Nurse at 8 and knew for sure that appendicitis hurt as hell. The book ‘Where there is no Doctor’ was the final nail on the coffin. I knew for sure that the medical field was made for anyone but me, I was no doctor. Science was fascinating, language; fabulous. I dragged my feet through mathematics, jaded through geography and snoozed through history. My father gave me a set of calligraphy pens when truly I was a painter and a story teller. Music and Art were hands-on and enjoyable at least they got me croaking and shaking on a number of stages in different parts of Kenya and I was flourishing in the hockey pitch. That was 14 through 18. By 18, I knew I was made for the road, for sea, for air. I wanted to travel, for leisure and to work, writing the stories of the places I visited.

19 to 25 was my njui huure phase, a stage of firsts I was adult now, at least legally. I was accepted to college far from home, had a first boyfriend (not sure about love), had my first real drink and hangover, my first job, my first account, got broke and for the first time and had only myself to answer to. Here at least I can talk about conscious decisions, actual movement across the country, alliances and broken promises, hope and frustration, and dreams. At this phase, not everything or everyone in the journey counts. I learnt lessons on caution, faith, on strategy, on love, on betrayal.

I have learnt that first, the heart is for pumping blood. Let it. Guard it. Guard it because according to Proverbs it is where everything flows from. I learnt to fill mine with joy. I have conditioned it to value humanity, to share love, to share joy. I have learnt to control my darkness, my pain and my desires; to be beautiful inside. I have learnt to have faith and of the power a little faith wields; to distinguish between who and what to put my faith in. In Hebrews 11: 6- “and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who commits to Him must believe He exists and He rewards those who earnestly seek him.” I have learnt to accommodate, to love, to moderate, to hold those who truly count close to my heart. I let my heart be broken only by the things that break the heart of God. Anything else should matter little.

We have all been gifted in many ways, especially with a brain with infinite storage space and ideas. Use it. At least you owe yourself that. Express what is inside. In art, or any circumstance, the hand cannot execute what the mind is yet to perceive. Learn and keep learning. Feed it with positive knowledge and inspiration not forgetting lessons, not necessarily your own. Always take a stand and let it be known, it helps a lot in managing expectations and clearing the air. Confront your fear because otherwise, it will enslave you. You cannot afford to let your mind be a battlefield especially because of the actions of other people. Peace of mind above all else. Look for beneficial avenues to express what is inside which we cannot see. If you have talents therein put them to use. Let them ease your life. Allow them to stroke your ego and boost your self –esteem.

We all need mental and physical exercise. They say health is wealth, a book and articles, water, a run, food, fruits and memes. They will ask where I get the glow, the smile and deep laughter. It is simple, they flow from inside. Mental health requires avoidance of things and people who take away your energy and to know that not every interaction is beneficial and if it serves nothing it is ok to leave, again and again.

When all is lost all you have left is your family. Nature may be kind enough to avail a friend who becomes family. Love them. Love them wholly, with their inadequacies; their imperfections. Always remember that you too are less than perfect and you cannot always please the world. Always seek to make lasting memories of love and laughter. Visit them. Take them out, buy them a gift, and show them a smile. Encourage them. They are your asset when all that is material is gone. They are the only ones that pray for you by your name and wish you the best. You are allowed to be wrong, as is appropriate to be right. Just never fail to follow your own advice, to apologise and to be kind. It is the little things that make 26 worth trying for.

Uncategorized

The Childless Life; by Choice

When people come across a woman, who is mature, sovereign, logical, who is at “the age” of marriage or beyond; yet she has no children, they ask many questions. I might sound like a bitter feminist in this piece but truly, we must have this conversation. Last Friday a local television station aired a feature titled “The Childless Life by Choice”. The interviewee to begin with was beautiful, smart and of course, a woman. Yes, it had to be a woman! In her words, she was raised in a conservative Christian home with three siblings and supportive parents. In her twenties, she CHOSE not to have children. “I feel free. I feel like I can get up and do whatever it is without having to think about someone else… and I know that that can be termed as selfish but at the same time… it is my life. I like that simplicity…it is very simple. I get to make decisions based on purely my desires.”~ Taruri Gatere. The social media backlash that followed against her, especially from the men was dumbfounding.

I do believe in the infinity of choice. We are living that world, a world of choice. We are at liberty to choose what to wear, what to eat, where to live, whom to include in our societal enclaves… What perhaps we had no control over was our own existence and birth, or what will result in its termination, but now that we are here, we have numerous choices to make about the holistic aspects that delineate our lives. Choices boil down to reproduction. We have surrogacy, egg and embryo donation, sperm donation, in vitriol fertilization, marriage and natural copulation, the use of fertility drugs just to name a few. Some in society have chosen not to have children. I believe that they too are right.

However, the African culture and context has the reproductive status African woman as community business. There is an endemic assumption that every woman at a certain age will yield to what we call “maternal instinct.” We expect a woman to get married, provide dowry to her relatives, procreate nieces and nephews, name our parents; or if marriage fails to work out, then one needs at least to leave a legacy of a child… that little, delicate human that resembles us wholly or in part that carries our DNA down to the next generation. If he is not of our blood then he has the name to carry down the successive eons. Still, some have chosen remain to be childless, not as a matter of incapability but as a matter of choice.

According to Vicki McLeod on TedTalks, the term ‘childless’ harbours a negative connotation. It implies that something is missing, a deficit in those who have chosen to remain without children. She says that surprisingly, this term applies almost exclusively to women: that we do not hear about men being childless. That at least is so, for the American context. The childless African man, like the childless African woman is the object of ridicule, whispers and pointing fingers. In all ignorance, society brands them impotent…a blinkered, vilifying connotation to one, perhaps powerfully competent elsewhere.

I believe that people have their reasons for wanting children, as exist reasons for not having them. One of the women interviewed based their argument on a predisposition that those without children fail to do so because of “raha”, the party life. Another wants to have children to take care of him when he is older, just as he is taking care of his elderly parents. Another wants to have children for continuity, because children are our legacy. Another is out to fulfill the command in Genesis 1:28 multiply and fill the earth. Everybody has their reasons to want or not to want a child. That is the beauty of choice…that there is always an option.

There is a need to desist from the assumption that it is the biological destiny of all women or men to have children. Life goes beyond that. Peoples’ destinies and aspirations are incessant and in my opinion, destiny, whether biological or in its entirety should be based purely on our sober individual choices that we make, based on our terms.

Motherhood is beautiful. Having children is a fulfilling and creative act; motherhood gives our lives purpose according to Vicki McLeod but then again there are different ways in which women can find purpose. Nevertheless, motherhood is a gamble. The fruit of your womb (and loins) may be a productive, even great member of society, or they may be the shame of their generation. Motherhood also is difficult. It is difficult to conceive as is difficult to carry a pregnancy to term, as is difficult to give birth, as is difficult to raise and love another human being. If a woman feels like they are destined to make a mother and love their children and provide for them, then so be it. If another feels like that digresses from her destiny, then that still is good enough. One only needs to listen to their inner workings to see what truly gives meaning to their OWN lives. It is only unfair to bring a life, which you will fail to take care of, which you will fail to nurture in love and the abundance of body and spirit.

To me, motherhood is a vocation, as is fatherhood. It is a calling that asks for the making of decisions to indulge in actions that will result in the emergence of a child. Parenthood is a full- time job, which consumes the energy and attention of the persons involved and certainly, is not everybody’s cup of tea. We have struggling single mothers in our societies who have been made out of actions of reckless abandon, just as we have men in society taking care of children whose mothers fled from the sheer thought of responsibility. We have so many sordid and livid people in society by the simple virtue of the lack of a motherly hug during their childhood.

I do emphasise the dire need to listen to our inner workings to establish if truly, parenthood is our destiny, or if children are the legacy we want to leave. We must also understand that a woman is a sovereign entity and she has absolute discretion over what she wants to do with her own body. Life certainly goes beyond our reproductive capabilities and we may be a happier people if we learnt how to respect the other people’s choices on how they want to live their OWN lives, with children, or without children. We must learn to respect their choices. Let it be a childless life by choice.