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.

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.

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.

Sunlight

The windows of this jav are clean.

That makes me comfortable, it shows care.

Care isn’t love though.
 

If this was a loved car,

It would be all clean.

Not just wiped down,

So obvious bits gleam.
 

Why can’t I stop myself from seeing,

the familiar, cloudy brown, bottoms and sides?

The pane still stumbles on unidentifiable grains

as it slides.
 

Love is expressed, in the corners, the cracks,

Away from the flat, accessible surfaces,

Away from the places that are easy to reach,

easy to shine,

Deep. In the crevices, we’d rather hide.

Love reaches in, through, underneath the lies.

The musky smell, and the tout tapping me,

remind me…

This is not my ride.

You are a space, not meant to be mine.

 
But the windows of this mat are clean.

So the sun falls on my skin, unfiltered.

For some reason, that leaves me lifted.

Reminding me…
 

Sometimes, care is enough.

So today, it may be ungrateful

To demand love.

Mama

She owns the world, with a paint brush

Of words

Which caress lifes’ obstacles with an overpowering;

‘It is well.’

 

October, November which bring rainy days,

She picks out the lilac to frame the grey

and rain purple rain

So the roads, with confetti celebrate our way.

 

She speaks in metaphors of a brighter tomorrow

for those who do right,

for rewards for toil.

She plants seeds, winged or bulbs,

And brings to life fruit and flowers.

In mud,

She rears rainbows, from the short rain showers.

 

She loves endlessly,

boundlessly, colour blind.

She is free

to see good in any place

That anyone could find.

 

I am half her, she gave life to me,

And for that,

I am grateful eternally.