That Picture 

Facebook memories recently offered up a memory from a year ago when I changed my profile picture. It was the photo I had till my return to Facebook a month or so ago, the one I had on Tinder. I shared it and said I had so many memories associated with it. Here are some of them. 

That photo was taken without my knowledge. You can tell if you know me. I dislike photos with a passion but it candidly captured a moment of joy. A friend commented and said I looked really happy in the picture. She knows me. 

It was taken at the World’s Loudest Library (WLL), a monthly event I used to attend that featured a book exchange, music, and assorted mood-altering substances. All good fun. I’m at my happiest among books and lovers of books so it’s no surprise that my face is alight. 

I was dating a man then. The person I was then thought we were a good enough fit. Yet when I look at that picture the enduring sensation is the freedom I felt being there – away from him. We lived together and he came by later that night to pick me up. There are no photos I can find from the time he arrives. 

This informs the other dominant memory: the cycle of relationships I didn’t even realise were unhappy. The feeling that grips me every time I see that picture – look how happy you were to be away from your  boyfriend. 

A lot of the things captured in the photo are now past. I haven’t been to WLL in a while; I’m rarely out after 7pm. I don’t even know if it’s held these days. I gave away the hoodie I’m wearing soon after; it was a gift from a person I no longer speak to. I will be single this one year on Thursday – I broke up with a person I dated for slightly over a year and I’m still recovering from the abuse that marked that relationship. 

The picture marks a moment of joy. One I wish I would inhabit more often – unfettered, true, consuming. I work now to take myself there, to stop and look at myself and say: look at that carefree Black girl. 

A #LipaKamaTender story

On January 3rd, I went to Mathari Hospital hoping to see a psychiatrist because I was feeling depressed. I had spent the weekend at a friend’s house watching trash TV and being so down I could barely put together 100 words. I had known something was wrong for a while but the holiday season did a good job of masking just how bad it was (Must! Be! Happy!); things came to a head that weekend.

I arrived at 9am because I didn’t think I’d get to see a psychiatrist; I was really just hoping to get a mood stabiliser to weather the next fortnight and get an appointment. My appointment is later this year and I’m pretty good at the art of “hanging in there”. I’m also on a drug holiday which, if I manage to not get sick, will end in me being ‘free’ from psychiatric supervision. It took a lot to go there.

There was no one when I got there. The registry was not open, the usual long queue on Tuesdays (the day of the outpatient clinic, which I was chancing) was nowhere to be seen.

I’d forgotten there was is a doctors’ strike on.

Yes, I read the paper and follow the news online and on the radio. I think my mind had skipped over this fact again and again as I prepared for my trip there; as I got my card, prepared my clothes, made breakfast. It was a jolt, then, to find myself confronted by the strike.

I asked myself what patients like me were doing. How were patients whose appointments fell during this period coping? How were people in some distress (depressed, anxious, psychotic, manic, you name it) getting by if they couldn’t see a psychiatrist here? If you’re wondering why seeing a Mathari psychiatrist is important to so many of us: it costs us KSh 50 (about $0.50) to see a psychiatrist for a review. Contrast that with the cost of therapy (upwards of KSh 2000) or a private psychiatrist (upwards of KSh 3000) and you’ll see what the stakes are.

Then I remembered what it’s like when there are doctors. All of us have 8.30am on our appointment cards so one has to be there before 8am to queue and pay the review fee to have a stab at seeing a doctor before 9am. Once we pay the fee, we queue again at the inpatient wards where we see the doctor. There’s no rhyme or reason to the queuing; you hand over your receipt and hope you’ll get a good number. Eventually, you’re let in (did I mention we’re waiting to see the doctor at the ward’s locked gate, on forms, in the sun? Well, we are.) in groups of 10 and wait some more for the doctor.

Usually, there’s only one doctor. When we’re lucky, there are two. Once, there were three (THREE!!!) and it felt like a miracle. As we wait, we sit together and talk, kvetch about the long waits, sometimes we walk about because there isn’t enough seating (this happens often, a lot of patients are brought by 2 or 3 relatives so those 10 patients will really be 20-25 people who need seating) and wait some more.

This is the ideal situation. Sometimes the doctor doesn’t arrive till 9 or 9.30 (remember that 8.30 on the card? The stuff of aspirations, it is) and even then, they may not start seeing patients till 30-45 minutes later. It’s not uncommon to see the doctor 2 hours after you arrive. Yes, being at Mathari from 8 (when the cashier’s window opens) to 10 in the scorching sun. Good times.

No, they are not good times. ‘Good times’ and ‘funny story’ are my favourite coping devices. Stuff that.

Finally, you get into the consultation room. While you were outside, you could hear the interaction between the patients ahead of you and the doctor. Now it’s your turn to be subjected to the same treatment. Usually, there are at least 3 people in the room when you enter: a nurse, the doctor, and a trainee nurse/ clinical officer (CO)/ psychiatrist. Add yourself and your relative(s) and it’s a veritable crowd. As the door remains open, you’re assailed with questions (How are you feeling? Are you taking the medicine?) and your caregiver is asked the same questions. While you answer them, the clinical learning opportunity is dissected and sometimes these 2 questions are all you’ll get before the doctor gives you a prescription and sends you off.

Always a prescription. The first time I went to Mathari, I misread my review date and went back the day after. I was given a date (yay!) and a new dose (why? I was feeling fairly OK) to keep me going. It saddens me that my assertiveness in clinical settings – the fruit of several trips to doctors’ offices growing up -is the only thing that keeps me off medicine when I’m well, that allows me to be heard. I once had to tell a doctor not to write me a prescription after I saw her write down my name before I’d said 5 words. It’s a strange position to be in: to assert that you know your mind in a place that people go to when they lose theirs. You’ll be lucky to get 2 minutes with a doctor in this context: too many of us, too little time.

This is what it’s like in normal time. This is why I stand with doctors.

The strike has been framed as greedy doctors seeking fat salaries. I won’t rehash here all the stories that doctors have shared on social media regarding their work conditions. They seek not just better pay (which is their due) but also better work conditions. It’s the latter that has me supporting them. Better work conditions for doctors are better conditions for patients.

Better conditions mean privacy for patients as they speak to their doctor, medication at your hospital, shorter waits as more students choose to become psychiatrists, decent waiting areas for us, more clinic days at a hospital that mostly serves patients with psychiatric needs. Better conditions mean more than a minute with your doctor, and not just because you’re assertive, they mean being able to get psychiatric care at your local hospital, even if you need to be committed for a while. It means seeing patients away from inpatient wards, where patients’ behaviour can sometimes be scary (more than once, screaming, shouting, undressing).

I believe that the government isn’t idly waiting out the strike. It is training us to assign public healthcare the same low value public education currently has. At this moment, we’re all scrambling to see doctors at private hospitals in much the same way as we have been working hard for decades now to put children in private school. Unlike schools, though, all of us are interested in healthcare. I’m a single, childless, woman but here I am, directly affected by the absence of medical services. I would argue that we’re halfway there: most people who have a little disposable income have been seeking private health services for years. Now, those who haven’t yet have to get help in private hospitals. Patients are ‘consumers’ and we’re being directed to seek services in the ‘healthcare market’; soon that market will be privatised beyond recognition and we’ll go along in the way of public education. Wandia Njoya has written better than I can about this; please read her words for a sense of what is at stake.

And now, for the thing that brought me to this point. Last week, KMPDU leaders were handed a suspended sentence and urged (practically ordered) to bring the strike to an end. Something within me broke. I punched out a thread on Twitter and raged. I present as a middle class woman (aaarrgghhh, class politics now???) because of my upbringing, my education, the places I have access to. I am, however, not middle class. I do not have access to the privilege attendant to the class – a long term job, medical insurance cover – and rely on public healthcare for that reason. To stay silent about the cost exacted on people like me by the status quo in order to maintain an idea of myself was to deny doctors and fellow patients solidarity. Standing with doctors is looking out for myself; it’s raising my voice and saying “Patients NEED doctors’ demands met!”. This is my attempt to marshal what class privilege I have to speak the truth of millions of people.

Let’s stop acting like patients are suffering because  of the strike and acknowledge that conditions in public hospitals are deplorable. Let us acknowledge that doctors are barely making do with the little they have; that so many of us are not dropping dead is amazing. Let’s put an end to this “at least” mentality we have (“At least we have the best hospitals in Eastern Africa”) because it only demonstrates how low our bar is when it comes to what we expect from government. Let us start demanding conditions that make the best medical care a reality for every Kenyan citizen.

I stand with doctors; do you?*

*Please let me know if you have a public healthcare story you’d like to share to give us all context about what the stakes are, what patients are up against in ‘normal time’. Thank you.

Men, pay for my labour

Before I took a hiatus from Twitter about a month ago, I declared that I would be charging men for my labour.

Since then, I’ve had an interesting time talking to men and informing them that there will be no uncompensated banter after a point.

Last week, two things happened:

1. I met up with a friend who asked me if I would go through with erotic labour should a man pay. The answer is yes. He said that it might not look like it but some man would pay and to be prepared. I await that moment with enthusiasm.
2. I had a friend over and she said I should start a blog chronicling this (mis)adventure. Nothing like a holiday to get one energised; find the blog here.

Credit for its title goes to @viru5detected, a smart, interesting, amazing friend whose Telegram channel I absolutely love.
Let’s see how this adventure goes!

The 2017 birthday wishlist

Hey :):):)

This is a first on this blog, I know. I am trying to be forthright about the things – or experiences – I’d like and especially on my birthday (30/01). I posted the first wishlist on Twitter earlier this year. (I got a few of the things I asked for – colouring book, TBC voucher, a Kindle for myself later in the year – & would not mind the watch, charity donation & Bluetooth headphones this year 😆.)

I’m putting it here for 2017 (long story) so here goes (not in order of importance):

1. Cash. Because then one can get themselves something nice, pay for therapy, tests, give to charity etc
2. A watch. In a world where phones show the time, one person… Update 21/12: One of my best friends told me yesterday she’d get me this.
3. Books. My Goodreads ‘to read’ list is a good place to start. Alternatively, an Amazon gift card 🙂
4. A phone. This is a very ‘out there’ request but I’m putting the ‘wish’ in wishlist, OK? 😎
5. A camping trip. Haven’t been out of the city and in a tent since April. Camping gear would be the gift of the year tbh; and it would do amazing things to my soul to be able to pitch a tent somewhere.
7. Time with someone who cares about me. This coming year will be the first in a long time when I’m not in a romantic relationship with someone. I am, for the first time in a while, pretty happy, so I’d love to make it solid by spending it with a person (or people) who love(s) me.
8. A bag like this one. I’ve thought about it for so long; it would be lovely to own one.
9. Makeup because why not. Though really what I mean is eye stuff and lip things. One step at a time 🙂
10. Subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, journals; this especially to those of us who enjoy my Telegram channel (hop on if you haven’t joined yet!).
11. A sturdy backpack because really my back may soon break from carrying a laptop in a shoulder bag.

Yes, I know some of these things feel repetitive – because, yes, I’m a simple girl – but there you have it!

Happy holidays and thanks for reading 🙂

Off for the weekend

I haven’t camped since June last year and this week, this situation will be rectified with Roo and our friend W.

This will mark the second hike/ trip I make this year, the first being a Valentine’s hike with a group of people I like. Thanks to that trip, I was able to reconnect with a person I had, in the words of one of my cousins, ‘cancelled’ and it feels good to have a friend back. I should write about it over at the neglected travel blog but you know how these things accumulate. Short version: We went to Ol Donyo Sabuk…talk to me for details.

I may not write tomorrow because the connection can be sketchy in some parks. If I don’t, you’ll get a double bill of #CuminWrites366 on Sunday. Brace yourselves!

Have a lovely weekend 🙂

Ready for the election

I hope.

I went to a registration point today and applied to have my polling station changed. I filled in a form, left my signature in a variety of places, and walked away with nothing but faith to show for it.

I have never voted at a polling station – or in a constituency – twice so each registration period is an adventure. This is the first time I have been given no acknowledgement and I must confess that I am anxious beyond belief. I know I’ll have a chance to check pout the register but I can’t quite name the source of my uncertainty.

This is me hoping for the best…and unsure exactly what to do if I have to go to another constituency to vote, if at all.

#2016Books Update 9

I finished Julia Alvarez’s book last week. It was a fantastic ride and a reminder about the cost of freedom.

On Tuesday, as I waited to conduct an interview that didn’t happen, I read The Lavender Hour. It was a moving story of death and love and  I was done in a day. I wrote about my thoughts last week.

Over the weekend, I started on Pankaj Mishra’s The Romantics. I’m only 2 chapters in but I think I’ll enjoy it greatly. It received high praise from book critics and seems like an interesting look at India.

Akello: I’m going through it slowly, taking in a poem a day. When I’m done, I’ll share my thoughts here and on Goodreads (which I should update).

Keep reading!