The Patience For Inspiration/ Will You Judge?

Eight years.

That’s how long it took me to be able to write honestly, and transparently about the day I was date raped. Eight years of, contemplation, denial, self hate and shame. Even today, I hesitate before addressing this topic. Here’s why.

The root of inspiration.

In general, date rape, is the one of the most controversial topics within the overall topic of rape. It is the form that is most easily silenced by phrases like; she asked for it, or alijipeleka. The morality of victim is always called into question. I think my story, can easily be summed up as ‘alijipeleka’, and that thought alone is a foreboding, silencing one. I often feel that I don’t have the right to even call it rape. So, in order to rid myself of the duty of judgment, in the interests of explaining why I had to to employ eight years of patience, before writing on it, I will allow you, my reader to be the judge.

It could easily have been summed up as statutory rape, but I lied about my age. I had just turned sixteen, but I told him, I had just turned eighteen. I had a terrible crush on him, and there is nothing a little girl wants more, than to be a big girl. Besides, to my mind, I might as well have been eighteen, I considered myself (and had been told by many adults that I was) very mature for my age.

He had asked me to be his girlfriend, and I had said yes. He was twenty three, and was my neighbor. I was not in the habit of keeping the company of grown men, but my romantic mind had summed up our meeting to fate, destiny. Less than a week into the relationship, I gave myself a reality check. I thought about the world we live in and realized, that he was most likely accustomed to having sex. I was saving my virginity for marriage, so I noted the disconnect and set out to break off the relationship.

I explained, that I was sure that he was used to having sex, and that I did not want to hold him back from what would normally be a part or his lifestyle, but that I was not at all ready for that.

“So this is not going to work out. I really like you, but I don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore. Lets just be friends.”

His response surprised me. ” I can’t believe you think that way about me. That I’m just going out with you for sex.” I hadn’t thought of him that way anyway, so I listened on. ” I would never want you to do anything you don’t want to do. So that’s not even an issue. I like you for who you are, not because I want to have sex with you.”

I had already made up my mind, so I was not easily persuaded otherwise, but he insisted and repeated these things so many times, and to my disbelief, actually cried at the affront of what he considered an accusation and the idea of loosing me as a girlfriend.

“I would never, never force you to do something you don’t want to do.” The memory of those words and the expression of disbelief on his face are imprinted on my minds eye, as though still, all these years later he is still trying to convince me.

I repeatedly said, “I’m not ready to have sex.”

The next day, we decided, we would ‘hang out’, listen to music, and talk. The next day, I did something extremely uncharacteristic of myself. I lied to my Mum, about where I was going.

We met up, listened to music, and I became comfortable again in his company. Bob Marleys ‘Is This Love’ was the song that reminded me of him. We were alone with each other, in his room. We kissed, and began a series of actions, that were inappropriate for my age at the time, but I had believed what he said the night before. I allowed myself to trust him. I allowed myself to trust too far. By the time I realized, that I didn’t have full control of the situation, he was on top of me, and I was naked.

I shouted NO, and pushed, but he was heavier than I could push off, and had appeared to become completely deaf. To this day, I’m not entirely convinced that he knew I resisted. I was not hit, strangled or otherwise injured. I became enveloped with a disbelief that made me step out of my body, away from myself. Once the first moments passed, I gave in. I even reciprocated, because, I believed, that all my worth, as a virgin, was gone. I had lost a part of my identity that all my years of schooling and Sabbath school had taught me was my most valuable asset.

I spent weeks afterwards crying at any alone moment I could find. The very next day, I wrote a poem about rape victims in war. In it, I described the theft of self worth that I was actually experiencing.

We had a conversation much later, within which I told him my real age, and he confessed that he knew I was lying about my age.

I could not write directly what had happened, not until eight years later. I would write about it in triple deep metaphors, through personas that were not me. I could not describe what had happened without hating myself completely. Not until Virginity.

The healing that came with, finally describing my experience was profound. In the healing that had to have taken place before it, reading writing that was on similar topics, had helped me work through. The night before that piece finally came out of my pen, I had watched a spoken word performance by Nemesis (Man Njoro), on the topic of date rape. That was the final stroke of acceptance that it took for me to be able to record the experience.

The cause of the inspiration.

That’s the reason why I decided to share it with the world. In case there is anyone who has been through a similar experience and does not have the courage to put it to words. Admitting what happened is an important step in that healing process.

Though, I still have fears associated with discussing this topic openly, I have mentally faced them and prepared myself. Facing them seems like the only way that my experience can serve any purpose; breaking the silence. I know, for example, that one of the reactions this story will inspire, is one that blames my parents. It shouldn’t be. I was neither too sheltered to realise consequences nor given too much freedom so as not to be protected. The alibi I used on the day was a neighbor, two gates away from mine, who I had known since age five. I was, save for that exception, a very responsible teenager, and had truly earned the trust that I was given.

Had my situation been a singular one, I would keep it to myself to my grave. It is not.  Teenage pregnancies are at a very high level in Kenya, and the fathers of those pregnancies are rarely below legal age. The truth is, our ‘team fisi’ culture is granting adult men the prerogative to bed underage girls, and our victim shaming culture is allowing them to do it repeatedly, without ever having to face any repercussions. Surely adults should be held responsible for their actions?

The patience for inspiration.

As an artist, you must sometimes fully digest the issues you address with your work.  The idealistic part of me prays that there will be a day when no really means no. The practical part of me knows, we are far from that day. However, the more we remain silenced by shame, the longer it will take for mind sets to change.

Although it may have taken more than ten years (and the birth of my daughter) for me to attack this issue head on, that may be the time this topic needed, for me to be able to address it appropriately. Though I have had to overcome certain fears to write this, it is still a kind of fear that drives the writing. The fear that this kind of thing will continue to happen… even to my grand daughters, to my great grand daughters….

 

So, my hope, is that this is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. Little girls will always want to be big girls, and to be treated like grown ups, in my opinion, that leaves it up to the actual grown ups to act like responsible adults, not take advantage. I could be wrong. I believe another big part of the problem, is that we teach our sons and male peers, that their manhood can be measured by their ability to bed women. This is a part of a larger scale, objectification of men, and the objectification of male sexuality that is seldom discussed.

Please share any thoughts you have, with me, with each other, on this comment thread, on facebook, on twitter, on your couch. If you see an alternate solution, share, if you see another part of the problem, share.  I hope, that we will have different fears for our great grand daughters… not the same ones that have been there since the times of Tamar.

To Silence

So, as silence sings her lullaby’s,
Silence steals her bed at night.
Silence teaches how to smile without
her eyes.
Her alibi, is silence.

So as silence scrubs clean panties,
Evidence.
Silence names girl six
as its’ abandoner.
Girl six is now a prisoner of
repeated testimony, public shame
a shameful story,
Is her namer, as whistle blower.
Had she chose silence, the number would climb further,
Maybe reaching sixteen?
Higher?

So, silence is consent given,
As saying yes, would make any her
a heathen.
In our ideology of morality,
Silence is the right answer.

I will question all this silence!
If it names me slut, I will not wither,
As the punishment of slander shrivels
in comparison to my fear
That this could happen to my
baby, or my sister.

So,
Silence! You are not my master!
Silence! You are not my Mister!
You have not given any gold or silver
To my ring finger!
Nor would I accept it!

In Search Of Womanhood (II)

As the word ‘teen’faded from the name of my age,
I started to listen to more advice
from people not my age mates.

Started to understand,
That there can be quiet,
rebellions in rage.

Started to understand, that
Boys will be boys, doesn’t always mean
Men will be Men, in this age.

Started to wrap my mind around,
the fragile ways, we
as Kenyan Women, allow ourselves
in slivers,
To be African.
So, we have to tie dreadlocks right back,
Retouch roots every week,
Hide the curls at every turn,
As much as we can,
Have to prove in every way,
That we are not shady,
Not backwards.

That’s how successfully
colonised we are.

Even when we go out,
Don’t let your a**
Actually quake.
You can rotate,
But African Americans held a conference
that dictates;
That your behind is not actually entitled
to palpitate,
unless, you’re a hoe,
or a video vixen.

To be a Kenyan Woman of substance,
You must frown upon twerking,
And label it, too western.

That’s how successfully
colonised we are,
And yet,
We own that beauty,
Much more than
The stars we are under.

In Search Of Womanhood (I)

It started with a ‘ballerina’ dress,

Not a real one,

Just,

The skirt would spread,

When I spun, round and round.

 

When I would sing along to the radio,

“I’m honey, honey honey honey…”

Why the singer thought she was honey,

Only she knew best.

When “Shilalalalalong…

Was an extra zealous aerobics instructor,

in my head.

 

Ariel was my role model,

If she could become human,

Then I could be a little mermaid.

And true loves kiss could save me from anything!
 

Teenage hood came,

I could so easily have been named a slut from all the songs I’d sing.

I watched TV, and wanted to be

The kind of woman my crush had a crush on…

So, I had to have a pony tail, the kind they sell.

So it would wave,

As I sashayed,

In that first imaginary throw back skirt

I’d seen on the reggaeton video girls,

And wished for those sneaker high heals,

As I tried my best to be a down A** B****.

I had no idea I’d be attracting the kind of grown men,

whose liking for teenage taste,

let my hip hop inspired dress code say

that I was not chaste.

Setting the perfect stage for date rape.
 

But attention, is attention, and though

Beauty and the Beast seemed about the same age, according to Disney

They didn’t at first.

So who was I to say,

this man wasn’t looking for true love,

Like I was.
 

Happily ever after, was what I knew to dream after.

And youth can be less like a fountain, and

more like a treacherous sea,

For a little girl.

Breast

So, thanks to the hyper objectification,
The hyper sexualisation,
of breasts,
When my milk is full, bursting
pain through my chest,
All you see, is Pamela Anderson,
Saving broke couch potatoes the expense,
of masterbation material.

And, if you paint me beautifully,
And translate my name,

Wambui,

from Kikuyu, to Kiswahili,
You’ll call me zebra.
But if you force my baby to be hungry,
You will face the lioness.

Yet, if I’m in public, when my daughter is thirsty,
And don’t have a bottle,
You’ll name it a wet T-shirt contest.

So, while the NAN can tells me,
that mothers milk is best.
It’s not accepted, in public,
For me to pull out my breast,
And, were I to forced to respond honestly to the ‘awkward’ stares I would get…
I may feel forced to rip their eyes from their sockets,
To force them to confess and atest to,
The fact that human body parts,
Have more functions than sex.

This Big

One of these days,

I will hold you, here, on my hip,

and take you outside to see the skyline.

I’ll point out that orange light,

on the horizon,

That’s not a fire light.

It’s a factory’s’ security lights,

And the thick smoke cresting

isn’t a forest fire, it’s the chimneys pumping.

 

One day, when you were only this big,

This tall and this thick,

tiny really.

At the brink of life on earth.

When the pain passed severe,

quick, fast, past room for tears,

where groaning, and kneeling brought no mercy forth.

When apparently the force of my muscles trying to bring you forth

dropped your heart rate.

Threatening your birth date.

We had to make sure you were ok.

We had to cut open to save

You from my uteruses efforts to give you life.

And in that light, I should say, that I wont always be right.

Neither will you.

The trouble being that we are human.

 

While you will grow up to Ngong hills, Christmas tree adorned,

I grew up to a Shelly Beach that lived up to its name.

And more will have changed,

And much will stay the same.

 

One day, I’ll have to watch you walk away,

On your own two feet.

I’ll feel both joy and sorrow.

But for now,

You are just this big,

This long, and this wide,

And I live to see you smile,

We needn’t worry about tomorrow.

Me, Beautiful?

Beautiful is in the curves,

the lines, that spell my name,

On a good day.

 

Is in the corners of the lips that

fall, even though they know

not to speak all.

 

Is in the eyes that face the

sun, and cameras’ flash,

Without flinching, without

blinking out the resilience

that allows for bravity.

 

Beauty is in aknowledging

the ugly.

In knowing that even that

can not define me.

In loving , Only

for the sake of love.

 

Beauty is in the puffy eyed

deep exhale of breath that

states, that the cry is over.

 

Beauty is the island of

space, in which I find

my peace of mind.

Stagger my pace.

And find the grace,

To pose,

Expose myself, as an existant entity.

A victorious refrain from lifes general vulnerabilities.

 

Because it’s only for moments

that we can break from this

race.

 

Beautiful is framed honestly.

Even when I don’t know it,

Beautiful is me.

 

The Misinformed Prince, By Mak Manaka

I first heard this piece at the 18th Poetry Africa, Durban. I cried tears of realisation and relief at the same time. I was so dumbfounded that I only realised after it was over, that I had a camera on my lap and could have recorded it. So, I hounded Mak to send me a copy I could read over and over again. Once I had it, I read it to a friend of mine, who by the end of my off the cuff reading, was balancing tears too.
I feel like these words may bring others the feelings it brought to the few who have witnessed it, so I am compelled to share it. Enjoy.

 

 

The Misinformed Prince

For Linn

By Mak Manaka

 

 

Behind the palace walls

Cries the lonely queen,

Her tears echo

The pain of a million women,

“Date-rape is real”.

She hands me a piece of light

While I plot to devour her pride

I mold her art

And reshape her heart

Simply because “I am a man”

But I am not man enough

To proclaim my love for her

What will she teach her son?

All men are dogs

Born in the heart of Babylon

Conceived from the sand of Mars

Because we refuse

To defuse our emotions at bars?

She sleeps covered in self-hatred

Blaming her self for your bullshit,

That same bullshit

That raised the little boy into an inferior

And stubborn Sheppard

See how he leads himself

To self destruction

Who will teach the young Prince

How to handle a woman’s emotion

When all he’s known is abuse

Who will let him know

That sometimes its ok to loose?

Young soldier

Walk away from gender oppression

And free your mind

From the corner’s unflinching

Chord progression

Be more than just a man,

Be the yellow brick

Upon where she stands

A real life fairytale

With happiness at the end

Though always remember

Truth can be hard to comprehend

Because in the face of reality

Uneasy lies the head

That wears a plastic

But still is the body that refused it

She marches against our hearts

Because we keep rapping her dignity

And corrupting her understanding of equality

Vanity has now lost her virginity

To profanity,

She is no longer secret.

Her body is now a damaged painting

We love to exhibit

Look how she laughs

Only to hide the shame,

Almost every woman I have met

Has been touched down there

When they were just young worlds

In every family lies the wicked blood

That clutches the smiles of little girls

Many young princesses

Have been crying in silent for years

Their tears falling on deaf ears

“She’s just silly girl”

Shouts the last voice they had trust in,

And so the bitterness on their skin

Thickens,

Deepens

Into nervous conditions

Careless reasons

Anger in the heart turned into burnt linen

Should a child live in fear

From her father’s laughter?

Home should not be an open space

Of constant bad weather

My grandmother was right

“bophelo ke ntwa”

Especially for a black sister

Raised by a sexist and conservative culture

Yet still, we keep unplucking her feathers

And blinding her further,

Because our dicks are not big enough

To apologize and mean it

Though I’ll be the first dick to admit it,

I am weak without her.

“ I am sorry my love”.

Behind every promise

A burnt peacock still dreams of beauty,

And behind the palace walls

A queen writes tears away from her face

Hoping that one day

You and I will learn how to listen.

Growing Up. Part 2. Hair and Love

Acceptance, and especially self acceptance can be hard to come by. More often than not, people will point out things that differentiate you from them. As you get older, it becomes easier to stand by your own principles and decisions. The full list of ways that I feel blessed to have grown up is:

1. Conversation

2. Patience

3. Hair

4. Love

5. Poetry

This is a continuation of the last uploaded post. Here are two more ways in which, I’m happy to be a grown up.

Hair

Like most girls, life hands me many circumstances where people feel obligated to tell me about my hair. Over the years, there have been statements which have been repeated over and over again, such that, when someone begins the statement/question I often feel like I can finish it for them.

  • “It’s so long
  • Why did you cut it!?
  • It’s so soft
  • This soft hair can’t shika braids
  • This soft hair can’t shika dreads
  • Haiya! What have you done to your hair! The way you had nice hair!
  • Kama ningepewa hii nwele…
  • Kama ningepewa hii nwele singe…
  • Wa! Enyewe hii nwele ni chache
  • Kumbe hii nwele nikidogo hivyo
  • If I had your hair…”

When I was in Year eight, the boys in my class put some money together to buy me a comb. It was yellow plastic, and came with a note that said something like:

PLEASE! Use this. You need it!‘ Scribbled messily across the corner of a torn exercise book page.

Its one of those things about how children can be cruel. My hair, was of course taken care of. I lived, at the time, in a house full of women that would never have let me go to school without first combing and styling my hair neatly. There were in fact, four generations of us, me being the youngest. There was my Mum, her Mum (my Cucu, who I call Mummy) and her Mum (my Maitu or great grandmother) and of course me.

The trouble with my hair, is that it has its own ideas about what it wants to do.

In early high school, I would try as much as possible, to style it in the ‘cool’ styles that my classmates had. My Mum never let me relax my hair, thankfully, as I now know, it would in fact have fallen out. The trouble was, what looked like a fringe in the mirror in the morning when wet, became a fuzzy erect crest by 10:00 am. Even if I wasn’t trying to have a fringe, the breakage in my hairline (caused by other ‘cool’ hairstyles like braids and flat ironing), would become something like a hallow, by latest lunch time, be lopsidedly standing around my forehead as though attempting to escape entirely.

When I was sixteen I began twisting my hair. Undoing and re-twisting, until I had a full head of locks. I didn’t need to go and sit under driers, my hair took to locking as though that’s what it was made for. I did them myself, although my front locks were slim and my back locks were thick, I loved my locks, and can happily say, that for the entire time, I never once had to visit a salon.

After two years however, I dearly missed the feeling of a brush or comb on my scalp. I had finished my IB diploma, knew that I would soon have to start work. I chose to take out my locks. My hair has allot of static, so I found, inside the thicker locks I had managed to collect allot of lint (blanketi). I wondered if that would contribute to weight in any way. I resolved, that I was going to do slimmer dreads, if I was to dread my hair again. Its a tricky balance though, because I prefer to do my own hair, the slimmer the dreads, the more time that will take.

Today, I do believe I’ve found a fun balance. My hair is partly shaved, partly sister locked and partially natural and short. I don’t think I would ever have had the guts to do this when I was younger. The age I am at, my principles on the fluidity of culture  allow me to be able to make unusual choices about my hair and know that I can stand by those decisions. I gave up on trying to look like other people, which is the most enormous weight off my shoulders. I love the fact that I finally know how it feels to have my hair really really short (Amazing!). I love my handful of of locks, that I can put pendants in and hear them jingle instead of earings. I can still put a brush through the rest of it.

I wasn’t born knowing what I wanted to do with my hair nor would I have had the guts to do anything I wanted to, just a few years back. So, thirty here I come, I love being a big girl!

Love

My first love, was in kindergarten. He was six months younger than me. To my classmates, that was an unacceptable age gap. He didn’t seem to mind, but there was another girl who liked him, and was an acceptable six months younger than him. In the end, peer pressure won the day, and she wound up being his girlfriend. This role, entailed holding hands, and eating break together.

I have always been prone to crushes. My teenage years featured the greatest quantity of love poems to date.

I have never had particularly good hand or foot to eye coordination. When I was eight, none of the girls wanted me on their hopscotch team. I would only be allowed to play, in the single player rounds of the game and even then, I served soley as the object of ridicule.

After many attempts to fit in with the girls, I conceded and would instead play ‘catch and catch’ with the boys. As a result, they stopped thinking of me as a girl. My great crush of that age was called Naheem. He had hair that fell around his face and reached his ears like Aaron Carter (I thought). He had a girlfriend though, and she was the prettiest girl in the school. I knew I didn’t stand a chance, and was a peace with that fact. To my mind, he was the cutest boy, and so it only made sense that he should be with the prettiest girl. For the sake of this blog, lets call her Cathy.

One day, in the corridor on the way to art class, Cathy stopped me to say, “Raya, I know you like Naheem and I just wanted to tell you that I don’t care. You can have him.”

Her declaration startled me. No one else was supposed to know. I had only told one person, my best friend. The trouble was, my best friend, had another best friend, who happened to be the biggest gossip in the class. I really didn’t know what to say to her, I hadn’t wanted them to break up, nor did I think I would stand a chance anyway. Eloquence often deserts me, just  when I need it the most.

At break time, Naheem walked up to me, his fists were folded into tiny balls. He accused me of intentionally making Cathy break up with him. He then proceeded to punch me in the face and give me my very first (and thankfully, only ever) black eye.

I remember crying profusely in the toilet. I remember vividly a revolting lump of red achari in the corner of the cement cubicle. I love achari, its always been one of my favorite things, but that tiny heap, would never have enticed me to put it in my mouth. The irony dawned on me some years later.

I wasn’t crying because of the pain in my eye, which would continue to tear until the next day. I was a tom boy, so a week would not have passed without me having some kind of injury, I was used to physical pain. I cried because I thought of Naheem as a friend and was heart broken that he could think so lowly of me.

Love takes many forms. I have often reprimanded myself for forgiving too easily and trusting too fast. Many a time, in my life, I’ve thrown emotional caution to the wind in the name of love.

Growing up has taught me two vital things about love. One is, it is a good idea to keep your eyes open. To love what is there, and not what you think could be. Two, is that it is OK to be a loving person. Loving truly, comes with giving truly, and that giving is a gift in itself.

I love the acceptance that comes with love.

Poetry DTR

She.
She is a tease,
She turns on her heels,
When I’m down on my knees.
She doesn’t aim to please.
She just is.

She, is the ornament,
My infernal tournament
An aching torment.

She…

Is a breeze, through the trees,
Coconut and Neem painted leaves,
Jacaranda,
Buganvillia,
Cheeky dreams.

She. Is a dream that
I call into being.
She is a greed I will
Agree to beyond the need
For meaning.

She makes me leave the house
Forces me to get dressed up.
She makes me wear my soul on my sleeve.
Makes me cover the tab.

She beats me down.
Till I swallow my pride.
She strips me, of my pretense,
Lays me bare on my bed,
heart throbbing and legs spread.

She heals me…

I, will walk to the ends of the earth for her.
I will kneel on the floor,
Covered in battle scars.
I will water the lawn with my blood.
For her, I will fight.
Tip my pockets inside out.
I will brave my demons,
For her.

Sacrifice for her.
I will beg and borrow to provide for her.
I will leave home,
Not knowing how I’ll get back,
Take her to the many places she lives,
And make her know:
She is at home with me.
But, she stays when I have to go.
Later, without having to open the door,
I’ll find her spread
across my desk.
A creative mess.
Waiting for me, to address her.
Undress her,
Confess to her, that it is me
That can not ever leave her.

She likes the camera,
Loves the pen, the paper.
She knows that she is a star
and I am nothing without her.
I faulter.
She doesn’t seem to want to have my daughter.
She would rather she, were my only child.
My only smile.
Or else, she would want to split the bill sometimes.

I, will not commit to her.
I’m not sure she commits to me.
I just, cant help conceding to her
predetermined victory.

We will be, for as long
As we can be.
I can’t remember much before we, were we.
I love her,
Maybe more than she loves me.
Perhaps.
I adore her.
I lay all at her feet.
She is sweet, not like a baby, like sugar.

Last night, she blew my world off it’s feet.
She flew in, and magic carpet, carried me.
To a place where I could speak from my truth,
To a multitude, who told me that they heard me,
In their different languages.

And my goddess resumes her throne,
Amongst the living
As a Queen.

I love you,
               Poetry.

I hope one day,
   I can ask you…

‘Will you, marry me?’