Proud Roots

cropped-img-20180613-wa000611.jpgSometimes, when I dream,
I wake up as nothing short of
A Proud African Woman.

But, I’ve always been short.

And I can’t paint my skin,
anymore than I can stop
myself from being human.

So, that leaves me just short of
consenting to pride,
because my lightness reminds
of times that had signs that said
“Europeans Only”

Even though my father was not born here
and arrived with nothing
except the will to explore,
and a soul so full of hard work,
that he broke off a piece and used it to make me,
Me.

Mummy Tummy

When I place my hand on
the roundness of my tummy,
I touch the space that means
I am called ‘Mummy’.
So nikifunga shuka
Ndio kiuno irudi
Do side bends, or sit ups,
Its not from shame, or because
I’m unhappy
It’s just to claim
my frame, as my own.
Because I do own my own,
my own lane,
And my appearance has nothing
to do with my claim to fame.

The next time you pass a
mirror, or a reflective glass pane,
Don’t forget to put your back
straight, head up.
Face the day with the whole of your name,
Because every single grain
of you is exactly where
it should be.

On The Objectification Of Men

Sometimes, its better for people to represent themselves in matters that have to do with standing up for themselves. Yet, not all the time. In other instances, people who are being oppressed in a certain way, are precisely the people who can’t say a thing about it.

When you can’t say a thing, you are voiceless. Your problems are overlooked, as not important enough, or not urgent enough. There are many reasons why this happens, topping the list of reasons are two things: shame and fear. Now, the feminists reading this, may be wondering why I would be posting on such a strange topic. Wondering why the objectification of men, should even come up, when the objectification of women is so rampant, so bill board loud. I’ll tell you, objectification is the kind of treatment that is passed on. When you objectify me, I will in turn, look for someone I can objectify more, because that’s the only way that I can get it off my chest. It works in a similar way as; hate breeds hate. The only way to truly end the cycle, is to stop doing it altogether, not to pass it on.

Let’s start at the beginning, in the school yard. Not being very good at the careful games of hop scotch and skip rope, I was not very welcome in the girls games. Instead, I played catch and catch with the boys on most days. For some reason or other, being accepted by the girls, was an unattainable goal, so I aimed instead to be accepted by the boys. That is where my dislike for being called a girl started. The boys, being told every other day by adults not to ‘be a girl’, passed the message on readily to each other (and so, because I wanted to be one of them, to me). “Don’t be a girl” still sits a little uncomfortably in my memory’s play list. It carries with it a list of instructions that are not articulated.

I am going to skip over the insinuation that being a girl is less, because it would digress the point of what I’m saying. The list of instructions that is insinuated by that phrase goes something like this:
Don’t be weak
Don’t be emotional
Don’t show your emotions when you have them
Be brave
Be strong
Be silent when something is wrong.(or at least be brave about addressing wrong things).

These instructions don’t stop in the playground. They continue into night clubs, board rooms, choma joints, hospitals, marital relationships… To be a man, you must be strong. You are not allowed to express emotional upheavals, because that is weakness, that is womanly. That conditioning, is silencing. It is the kind of thing that becomes ‘he wont answer his phone’ because he has been taught for his whole life to shut emotions out. The natural result is that if something threatens to break through the barrier he’s been taught to put up, he has to shut it out, even if that means escaping, shutting down. Even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings, because he has been taught, that letting those emotions take over would invariably make him worthless as a man.

The phrase “Be a man!” looms threateningly, suggesting that men should not ‘hesitate’ or ‘overthink’they should be instantaneously ready to be called into action, jump to be a hero in the face of danger. That is what “real men” are expected to do. Another phrase comes to mind, “Men are dogs!” usually used to describe the sexual infidelities on one man, by condemning the entire gender. Men are expected to take this particular phrase lying down, both literally and figuratively. Anyone who defends the entire gender of men against this phrase will automatically be seen as stupid, naive, or both. It is a foregone conclusion, therefore, why resist it. If you punish me for a crime I have not committed, especially a fun one, I would commit it, just to even the score.

Maybe the most obvious male attribute that is used to measure manhood is physical strength. Yes, we have moved past times when the guy who brings home the lions head gets the girl (at least on this continent). Yet, physical strength in a man is still a prized attribute, I know I’m not the only girl who likes to feel ‘protected… safe’. This expectation is so high, that any man that is not tall and strong, will have anything negative he does, attributed to ‘small man syndrome’. This strength is not meant to be used outwardly, in any uncalled for situations eg. I don’t want you to beat up the guy I gave a giant hug to, before you have a chance to find out he is my cousin. “Wah! He is so buff!” is always meant as a compliment, therefore being strong, is something we encourage men to aim towards. The stronger, the better.

Now that our silent men are strong, and excused for crimes before they have committed them, what comes next? I have to state that what I am about to describe, is something that I am not sure happens to white men. It could, but I have not seen it or heard it, so I can not assume it does, I can only address what I know to be true.

Memes of Nigerian mens’ ‘assets’, the constant romantic and campus comedy references to ‘A Big Black C***’, references to dildos that are meant to imitate ‘A Black C***’, countless giggled conversations about size and girth, songs like “One minute man” and the conversations that quote the song. Men hear these conversations too. Their belly sizes are measured and ridiculed, either too round or too skinny and unattainable body standards are set by models and actors who look good for a living. We may easily state that they don’t mind, that they don’t complain, that it doesn’t bother them, BUT we have already established that, complaining, allowing themselves to look bothered is not allowed. They have not been allowed the privilege of saying that ‘small things’ bother them since toddler age. Many boys would have been discouraged these displays of emotion from before the can speak a sentence.

Painted sign posts site Nguvu za kiume as a priority all over Nairobi, radio shows receive calls from women whose men ‘can not perform’ who are then ridiculed and advised to look for help. In fact, a mans roles in the marital home, could be described as achieved, if he can do two things; provide and perform. Modern day economic circumstances make it such that, unless a wife comes from a a lower class than her husband, it would be impossible to sustain their standard of living and raise children unless she works too. Resulting in a perpetual threat to the ‘provide’ portion of of a husbands ‘duties’. Current economic trends leave a man with only one validating action, one source of ‘proof of manhood’: his sexual performance.

Right, let us look at what we have built up, what we have created, in our sons and our brothers. What is it we are expecting, when we place the above ideals on the head of a ten year old, sixteen year old, twenty three year old, forty five year old male person?

a) Someone who suppresses emotions
b) Someone who conceals his desires and grievances
c) Someone who is expected to be physically strong
d) Someone who is expected to perform well sexually
e) Someone who is expected to be sexually promiscuous

Then comes feminism. Feminism has many many forms. In fact, though I consider myself a feminist (someone who campaigns for equal rights for women and men) I can not count the number of arguments I have had with fellow feminists on one ideal or another. The beautifully written and performed poem, Fake Deep describes so many discrimination’s against women, but in its essence completely tramples on the freedom of speech of men.

Men are given mixed messages, ‘bring me flowers!’, ‘don’t give me flowers! I want real love!’, ‘open the door for me!’, ‘I can open my own doors! I’m a strong independent woman!’. When the truth is, there is no rule book for the social subtleties that are merely symptoms of feminism. We are not confused, we just have different opinions. The appropriate thing to do, would be to get to know each other, truthfully. Forget the games, that state that if a girl who openly expresses that she wants to have sex too, she is a slut or that if a man talks about anything more personal than his day at work that he is too emotional. Those games, create a world where no does not mean no. They set young girls and young boys up for the kind of misunderstandings that scar people for life.

It is nearly impossible to afford someone else a privilege you do not have yourself. If we do not afford our men the privilege of being able to express themselves, what makes us think we can expect them to understand us when we express ourselves. All they will understand, is that we as women are incapable of keeping our emotions in check, simply because that is what they have had to do for their whole lives.

Equality struggles, should try to remain true to their objectives. If we aim to oppress male expression, more than it has been oppressed for so long, the only result, is a push back. That push back, will find our younger sisters, our daughters, pushed down onto their backs. Not because men are animals, but because, men are human beings. They too seek affirmation, validation and recognition.

We set our women up to expect men to be strong, sexually driven and insensitive. Then, we look on astonished, when they are just that.

Surely, we should try a different method, if we want a different result.

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 (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.

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.

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.

Growing Up. Part 1. Conversation and Patience

I am forced to admit, that I am quite a sporadic writer. I woke up the other morning, at three thirty, jumped out of bed and scrambled for a pen and lots of paper. I had to write about growing up, something I am suddenly very happy I’ve managed to do.

Perhaps, one day, when being a poet, affords me a manager, he or she will make sure I have scheduled posts, and pre-written pieces, to keep my (by then) hungry readers interested. Until that time, I am very grateful to you, who is unconditionally on the receiving end of my spontaneity.

Here are the ways in which, I’m very happy I have grown up.

1. Conversation

2. Patience

3. Hair

4. Love

5. Poetry

Initially, on waking up at that strange time, I thought I had been inspired to write one post. On sitting down to write it, I realized, that the topic is far too large for just one article. What follows is the first parts of why I love growing up.

Conversation.

I’ve become, a much better listener. I am no longer that annoying girl in the class who always had her hand up. I’ve learnt, that it is possible to express oneself much better by listening to the points of views of the people around you. In that way, you can choose your words more wisely, and be understood much clearer.

Once upon a time, I was told that Rwandan women feed their babies on breast milk until they reach two years old. In my defense, the source of that information, was the Rwandan mum of my half Rwandan childhood neighbor and friend. When I was eleven and in year seven, I was new to Nairobi and the new kid in the class, I put up my hand to say this. I made a habit of collecting and delivering ‘Did You Know?’ type facts, consequently volunteering information I hadn’t been asked for was something I did frequently.

What I didn’t know, is that I had a Rwandan class mate. She took great offense at the sweeping statement I had delivered about her origins. She received my comment as an attack on her nationality. At the time, I didn’t understand her reaction. I thought my source to have been credible, and thus would have expected her to have simply corrected me if I was wrong. We were never friends while in the same school, and throughout the time that we were in class together, I didn’t think she was a very nice person.

We had mutual friends, and so, after finishing at that primary, we met by chance on other occasions. I grew to like her just before she left the country for good. I have often been around people who make blanket statements since, and so, I’ve come to understand why I rubbed her off the wrong way.

A blanket statement, is a bit like one of those police trucks that goes around picking up people and stacking them together, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have, myself been loaded into these truck like statements, for being – a woman, a member of the youth, a ‘pointy’, a kyuk, a jungu – that list is actually endless. Whether a generalization is made as a compliment or an insult, it is never nice to be picked up and plopped into a labeled box, just because you fit into some stereotypical group of people, most of whom, you have probably never met.

On the day that I made that generalization, I made an ‘enemy’ (in the context that eleven year old girls would use the word) out of someone who, as it turns out was a respectful, caring and loyal friend.

I’m sure that would not have been the last time I made that kind of oversight, but with age comes the learning of lessons. I am now in a space where that is the kind of mistake I am unlikely to make. In that way, I have gotten to know many other people who I may otherwise have rubbed the wrong way on first meeting.

Learning to listen more in conversation, is something, I absolutely love about growing up.

Patience

Patience is one of those lessons, that I keep having to learn again, just when I thought I had got it. It’s like the point, in a game of soduku, where you are at the edge of having all of the rest of the answers, but can’t quite figure out the next move. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, patience is not about sitting and waiting.

Patience is; resiliently putting one foot in front of the other, in a sustainable, peaceful way.

Impatience and longevity are opposing forces. Longevity, is the reason why a leopard will eat, where a cheetah will starve. Impatience provides shelter for that frustrating feeling of ‘So close, and yet so far’. It acts like a fungus, whose spores are hopelessness and ingratitude.

Patience on the other hand, allows you to till the land, carefully. With the knowledge that, although this life does not guarantee success, your best efforts in the field, make for your best chances of yield.

Often, the best poems I’ve written have been penned in less than ten minutes. The process that precedes the delivery is what takes ages. Besides, wide and quantitative reading and hours of practice writing, I have to have internalized and analyzed the subject matter, with enough depth to be able to know what it is that I’m trying to say. The longest time, that that has taken is eight years.

Patience isn’t inanimate though. It needs to be fed, nurtured, loved, encouraged. It thrives in the company of peace, hope, grace and love. Together, these forces, create peace of mind

Without patience and resilience, most of my truest art pieces, would never have been written. Most of my triumphs would never have been made. So, patience is one of the reasons, why I love being my age.

Njora’s Diani Beach

The sun had finished setting slowly, and started setting quickly. It wasn’t the most colourful of sunsets. The guava pink and golden turquoise hadn’t returned to the evening sky. In their place were hues of grey and blue that didn’t stay long enough to leave a lasting impression.

Christmas would be here soon.

Njora was sitting at the top of the beach, where drift wood and water-worn coconut shells speckled the hourglass-dry sand with dark brown. It slipped through his fingers as he sifted through it. The deeper he dug, the colder the sand.

When the ocean started reflecting shadows, he knew it was time to get home, Mama would be leaving for work soon. He wiggled his toes into the depressions his feet had made in his oversized flip flops and set off. He ran through the public access road, over light orange coral dust, which became browner and browner as it mingled with the inland soil. He swung his hands through the evening breeze, sending tiny pine seeds rolling away from his footprints or merely pressing them a little deeper into the ground.

He could smell crab in the air as he passed high walls and thick bougainvillea fences, it smelt divine. As he got into the gate, he almost rammed into Baba Kavi, who pushed him out of the way, angrily muttering “Look where you’re going boy.” clicking as he went. He walked the rest of the way, past Kavi’s door and into his own; the sky had taken on a royal jellyfish blue behind him.

“Njora, eat quickly, so you can bathe, and sleep,” Mama half shouted from the only other room in the house. He could smell her Sunlight-clean scent, so clearly she was getting dressed to leave. Njora sat obediently and started on his ugali and mchicha1. Mama’s cooking was so good, he was done in a jiffy. He quickly went out to have a bucket bath. When he came back into the house, Mama was walking out of the bedroom, putting a light blue sweater over her white blouse and brown uniform skirt; he knew she would have her leopard print waistcoat in her handbag. “Are you sure you’re clean?” She asked. He answered an enthusiastic “yes”, as he went over to give her a goodnight hug. “Ok, get into bed. Do you have everything ready for school?.” He nodded and skipped off to his side of the bed.

The next morning happened upon him without his realizing he had fallen asleep. Mama was talking to him, “You’ll be late for school if you don’t get out of bed and get ready now.” Njora dutifully did as bid. When he was ready, and out the house, he found Kavi outside, waiting for him, so they could walk to school together. School was half an hour away if they took the main road, and forty five minutes if they walked along the beach. Kavi wasn’t being herself today. They would usually race to see who could touch the leafy giant baobab tree that stood guard at the entrance to the public beach access path. Today, she was kicking the little pine seeds out of her way, raising ghostly plumes of dust around her feet as she did so. Njora warned her that she would get in trouble for her dusty shoes in assembly, so she should stop it.

“I’ll just wipe them when I get there! ” she retorted, but she stopped anyway. On the beach, the wind howled so hard at the coconut trees that they retorted in harsh voices. It wasn’t cold, but the wind was picking up all the sand it could, and throwing it at their faces. “We should have gone the other way” Kavi complained, still sulking heavily.

“What’s wrong with you? Were you beaten today? Did you do something wrong?”

“No.”

“Then what is it? ”

“It’s just… I’m just… hurt…”

“Where? Did you tell your mum?”

“I don’t want to tell her. And I am not going to tell you. Just leave me alone.”

Njora stopped walking, Kavi continued. She muttered under her breath as she went.
” You’ll be beaten if you’re late for school.” Njora caught up with her, and kept her now much quicker pace. He was burning with curiosity, but Kavi was in such a bad mood that he didn’t speak the rest of the way.

Later, as he sat in class, waiting for their class teacher, he drew little sketches of palm trees and fish in the exercise book his Mum had got him, for that purpose. He’d gotten in trouble for drawing too much in his other school books. He ignored his class mates, two of whom were teasing him. “Njora thinks he’s an artist, Njora thinks he’s an artist…” Just as the gang of four at the back right burst out hysterically at the jokes about him, their teacher walked in. Everyone stood to deliver morning greetings, that were received and reciprocated, along with an instruction to sit down.

“Those students whose names I am about to call, I want you to come to my desk.” Njora Stevens was the second name on his list.

He rose and walked towards the desk. In total there were four students called up and handed letters. Njora’s was the only one addressed to Ms, not Mr and Mrs.

“Take these to your parents now. Tell them you can come back to school when they have followed what’s in these letters. ”

As he walked away from the classroom, he could hear the beginning of a maths class. He liked Maths. He didn’t rush to get home, he had seen other students get called up like that and they didn’t always come back. Mama would not be happy if he could not go back to school. He was not looking forward to giving her that letter.

He walked down the beach with the letter feeling as heavy as a sand ball in his pocket. To his left was the sea, to his right was a stretch of gigantic hotels, towering over the shore, with countless miniature verandas. The makuti2 sun shades were devoid of their holiday sun beds and cushions. When December and July came, there would be dozens of bikini and speedo-clad pot bellies, each with their own book and drink, lying there, moving only in slow motion, they would remind him of the crocodiles he had seen at Mamba Village. Today, the hotels were boring, so he didn’t give them much thought. Next in line were a series of private plots. They were not allowed to wall out the beach, so they used trees as curtains: the houses sat out of sight. These were also failed to catch his interest, except sometimes, when the occupants would come out with their dogs and play catch or run along with them.

Mostly, Njora watched the sand in front of him, trying to leave full footprints with his shiny shoes. When the sun was hotter, he couldn’t look down, the reflection from the sand was blinding. As he glanced at the sea, something caught his eye, something dark, large and near the shore. The shape of it was remarkably human-like.

With realization that smacked him like a crashing wave he saw it was a person. With the kind of speed that only comes with practice, he threw off his bag and shoes, and ran into the shallow edge of the water. The person was a grown up, b

ut a young one. He pulled him out of the water in which he was lying facing up. To Njora’s relief, the young man was still breathing shallow, steady breaths. Njora shook the young man repeatedly. When that didn’t work, he used his now-soaked socks to squeeze some water over his forehead. The young man’s body jolted, and burst into a violent coughing fit, rolling onto his side in the process. Njora slapped his back to try to help. The coughing got worse, and the beached individual vomited profusely, producing a shade of green that made Njora think of a glass Sprite bottle. It smelt strange and disgusting. Thankfully, after the hurl, the coughing stopped and slow laboured breaths began.

The first thing out of the youths chapped lips was “Waderr”. Njora had no idea what that meant, but he knew he could take him to Mama: she would know what to do, and she could speak many languages.

He answered by holding one of the grown up’s hands and saying “Come.”

The first attempt to stand up failed. The adult groaned and repeated “Waderr”. Njora put his socks into his shoes, and tied their laces to each other, so he could carry them around his neck. Then he used all his strength and all his weight, to lift the man to a standing position.

They were not far from the beach access road that lead to his house, so he pointed to it and lead the way. Every few steps, he would have to stop and wait for the grown up, whose swimming trunks looked more like underwear. Njora decided to call him ‘Waderr ‘ and would shout back, ” Waderr, this way”. Waderr was having a very difficult time walking. He would stumble, one step too far to the left, the next too far to the right, his strides uneven and once in a while, even backwards.. As they approached the baobab tree, he Waderr was getting steadier, and they were soon at their gate.

Now, all of Njora’s nerves came back to him, he fanned the half soaked letter in his hands in a last minute attempt to dry it.The courtyard was empty, and covered in drying clothes on the lines, and bushes, from the eight households that shared the compound.

His front door was shut, so he signaled to Waderr to wait. Waderr did not wait, he beelined for the courtyard tap and drank straight from it. As Njora approached the door he could hear Mama’s voice, ” But what was he doing in her room at that time? At least he’s not coming back.” He walked in, ” Njora! Why aren’t you in school?” He explained what the teacher had said and outstretched a shaky hand to give her the letter. Before she could complain about the state of it, he burst out.

“Mama, I found a man in the sea! He’s outside. I think he wanted to die.” Mama rose to her feet, frowning, to go see what he was talking about. It was only then that Njora noticed Mama Kavi, sitting in ghostly silence, staring at the floor. Half of a tear mark shined down her left cheek, taking a sharp right angle turn to the left at its end. Her eyes were puffy, and she was holding onto a very soggy, tightly folded handkerchief. She hadn’t looked up since he walked in. He tried to offer a greeting, but just at that moment…

“Njora!!” Mamas voice came from outside, so he ran out. “Where is this man of yours?”

To his horror, he was nowhere to be seen. He ran to the gate to look left, and right, but there was no one, anywhere in sight. Mama stood, hands on her hips. She looked so furious, she could have thrown something at him, instead she ordered him to get clean, clean his shoes and get dressed in a clean set of uniform. “You’re lucky your other uniform is dry.”

The next time he saw Mama Kavi she was staring straight at the wall, he didn’t try to speak to her this time. He just got ready, for the second time today, for school. The clock on the wall told him that it was break time already. Only three hours left to the end of school. When he was finished, Mama handed him another envelope. This one was thick, and felt like it had money in it. “If I find out you’ve gone swimming with genies again, neither of us is going to be happy! We have enough problems, we don’t need to imagine new ones. When you get to school, go straight to the reception and give that to Stacey. Then get back to class as soon as possible.”

This time, Njora took the main road route. He ran, only walking where he had to pass by more adults or by the milky puddles that looked like Sunday’s hot chocolate. He made it to school in twenty minutes according to the clock in the reception, just as class was starting. To his relief, once the envelope was opened and inspected, he was told to go back to class and come back after school, before going home.

Art class was after break, and he didn’t miss any of it. He badly wanted to know what marks he had got in last week’s homework: he had drawn his Mama. He hadn’t shown her yet, when she had wanted to have a look, he had told her it was a surprise. He was expecting high marks. He was right, he had gotten ten out of ten. He beamed, at least something good had happened that day.

When school was over, he waited for Kavi at their usual meeting point, just outside the school but she didn’t arrive. He went back in to look for her, gratefully remembering that he was supposed to go back to the reception. He picked up a small envelope that fitted into his shirt pocket and wandered around looking for signs of Kavi. When he finally found her, she was in the strangest place. She was sitting, knees folded up to her chest under her dress, behind the tree, at the furthest corner of the playground. He couldn’t believe she was still sulking!

“Kavi let’s go! I can’t delay today.”

“I’m not going!”

“What do you mean?!”

“I’m not going home.”

Njora remembered how upset her mum was when he’d seen her. “Are you scared because your mum is upset? What did you do?”

“No. Nothing. Did you hear her shouting yesterday?” She looked up for the first time.

“No, I had to go home. I saw her today.”

Kavi was looking at him suspiciously. “The other children who went home, didn’t come back… what else did she say?”

“She didn’t say anything. Why was she shouting yesterday?”

“I’m not going to tell you! How do you sleep through all that noise anyway? Can’t you hear anything?”

“How can I hear when I’m asleep? Are you scared to see your dad?” Kavi did not respond. “Well, if you’re scared to see your dad, he won’t be there. I heard Mama say he’s not coming back.”

At that, she looked up, a strange mixture of relief, shock and pain lingering in her gaze, as if to confirm he had said what she heard. She looked forward and closed her eyes as though for a short prayer. A moment later, she took a deep breath and lifted herself heavily up from the ground. Stiff yellow mango leaves crunched and turned over under their footsteps.

Bicycles creaked past them, sometimes spraying tiny specks of chocolate mud on their clothes as they solemnly walked home. No one said a word, and every ten steps Njora would have to slow his pace to let Kavi catch up. On a normal day, Kavi would not have liked to feel beaten in speed. She was even carrying her satchel in her hand instead of over her shoulder. She was managing to make it look very heavy. Njora hesitated at first, but then reached out to offer to help carry it. He was surprised when she consented, today was not a normal day at all.

At home, he tried to show Mama his drawing but she was busy talking to Mama Kavi, who was sitting, rocking Kavi backwards and forwards in her lap. He decided to leave it inside a magazine he knew she would look through when she was more relaxed. He had his lunch and did his homework, before attempting to talk to anyone again.

When all was done, he wanted to go and play with his football on the beach. Mama said that was fine as long as he didn’t go swimming. Kavi and her mum were leaving, he overheard, for the hospital. He was glad, he didn’t think Mama had had a chance to sleep at all, and it was soon time to leave for work again.

He didn’t know what was going on with the grown ups, but that was normal. What bothered him was that Kavi didn’t want to tell him what was wrong either. As he played with his football, kicking it into the air as many times as he could without letting it touch the ground, his worries left him and the rest of the evening passed as though all was well with the world.

The next morning, Kavi seemed much better, though not quite her usual self. When he tried to ask her what was wrong, she brushed him off so he dropped the subject.

School was normal, the bullies teased him, he had class, and he drew at every chance he got. On the way back, the sun was too hot, so they took the road route to spare their eyes. Loud four by four cars sped past them, slowing only for the sporadic bumps on the road.

Outside their gate, they found an enormous glossy Range Rover, posing as though for a photoshoot on their dusty coral road. They glanced at each other, but neither of them had any answers, so they carried on, assuming one of their neighbours had a visitor. When he got into the house however, he found Waderr sitting, talking to Mama. He didn’t look much like Waderr anymore though. He was wearing all white linen, and a big shiny earring on one side. To Njora, he looked like the paintings of angels at the church.

“There he is!” Waderr jumped out of his seat as soon as Njora walked in. “My saviour! Young man, do you know you saved my life?” Turning to Mama, he continued “ I told my dad something like this would happen if he kept pushing me so hard. He didn’t listen. He never listens. Anyway, I have something for your hero of a son, Ms Kinyanjui, may we all step outside for a minute?”

As they walked, he kept talking. “I had an argument with my dad over the phone, and I got so angry I had to hang up and downed my bottle and decided to go out to the beach and cool down. Thats the last thing I remember until Njora was patting my back. Do you know we are neighbours, my house is the one with the stone wall, just before the beach there.”

He walked round to the boot of his shining car and opened it. Out came a spanking new, metallic green mountain bike. It had a bell, and a carrier on the back that was big enough to put a small person on. It looked like it had jumped straight out of a movie. Njora was fixated by the machine, and Waderr just kept talking. He was glowing at the expression on Njora’s face.

“Do you know how to ride son?” Njora nodded slowly “ Do you know how to change gears?” Njora shook his head.

“Njora, talk. Have you forgotten how to speak?” Mama didn’t look like she thought much of Waderr, but she seemed very proud of Njora, so he spoke up.

“I don’t know what a gear is.”

Waderr didn’t seem to have heard heard him, and continued. “What were you doing out of school at that time anyway?”

“I was bringing for my Mum a letter.”

A gust of wind swept down the road, sending the pink and orange bougainvillea flowers into a feverish shiver. Mama put her hands behind her back and looked very tired all of a sudden. Waderr seemed to notice, his tone of voice became softer.

“Do you know, I really don’t know how to thank you enough. May I invite you over for dinner? Musa is an incredible cook. Or, if you prefer, we could go out for dinner? Just to say thank you properly.”

“Mr. Makau, we are very grateful for your gesture, my Njora is a good boy. He did what any one of us would have done. You are very generous to give him this bicycle, but anything more is really not necessary or possible. I am very busy.”

“Please, please, call me Dale. Ok, ok, I understand. At least let me teach him how to ride this bike, its a little complicated at first. Tomorrow? After school, after homework or whatever time is best? How is three thirty? Then the sun won’t be too hot. I have to fly back to Nairobi in two days anyway.”

Njora looked up from the ground to Mama, silently imploring her. She caught his expression and holding back a smile, she answered. “Yes, that’s ok, but for now he has homework to do and its getting late. Njora say thank you to Mr Makau.”

“Thank you Mr. Makau…”

“Dale, please call me Dale.”

“Thank you so much Mr. Dale. The bicycle is so nice! Where should I find you tomorrow?

“At the beach, right at the bottom of this road” he put the handlebars of the bicycle into Njora’s hands. “Have a good day, see you tomorrow.”

They bid him goodbye and walked back in the house. As the huge engine roared away, Mama burst out into happy laughter, “So your genie was real? Did you wish for a bike? That’s good Njora, you did a good thing yesterday.”

Njora grinned sheepishly as he pushed his perfect bicycle towards the house. Later, as Njora went about his homework, he heard Mama exclaim loudly from the bedroom. “Wow, did you draw this at school?” She came out glowing, with his drawing in her hand to give him a giant hug. “Make sure you do well like this in all your subjects, ok?” She looked like she would never stop smiling. The drawing was pinned up on their bedroom wall the next morning.

The next afternoon took forever to arrive, but after a hot, cloudless day, school was finally over. He had been told to go to the reception again after school. There, he collected a small envelope like the one he had picked up the day before, and a big envelope, made of hard rough white paper that seemed to shine when he held it at a certain angle.

Kavi was really excited, she had gotten a hundred percent in an English test and very pleased with herself. She carried her bag properly, and Njora didn’t offer to help her with it. He got home, gave Mama the letters and got straight to doing his homework. Just as he was finished, Mama came out of the bedroom with an unreadable expression on her face. “Njora…” she paused to sit down. “Do you know, that Mr. Makau has paid your school fees? All of them. Until you finish. This letter is from him.” She held in her hand a hand written letter and the big envelope he had brought from school.
Mama walked him down to the beach, when the time came. She wanted to thank Mr Makau for the help. To Njora’s delight, Mr Makau had a dog, a little Jack Russel, who stayed at the house when Dale wasn’t around.

“You can come and play with him anytime you like, I know he’ll love to have someone to play with too.”

Njora understood how the gears worked very quickly, making his own wind as he increased speed. He was sure, this would be the best week of his life.