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.

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.