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.

But, That’s Not What They Were Fighting For

The day Maitú snuck out,
to slit her ears,
to wear hangi,
I am sure she didn’t envisage
the day, when girls are stripped
      on streets.
When she, went back and
undid the deed,
I am sure, she did not see,
live video feeds,
Of legs apart on back seats,
with a voice
calling for a bottle.
There are those of us, who never had the chance
to meet grandmas,
who with their husbands names,
hidden under their teeth,
passed on violently, and loyally
at the hands of oppressors.

This what we have here,
This #Mollis era,
     This is not
What they were fighting
     for.

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 (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.

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.