Small Mercies

Recently, a friend needed to be bailed out of hospital because of an issue with payment. What had happened was their insurer (Britam through Linda Jamii) had elected, for whatever reason, not to pay the entirety of the bill. Instead, Britam would pay the bill less NHIF’s amount. This is why I needed to  bail them out: their NHIF payments were not up to date.

Being poor is expensive because you’ll probably have to pay for a host of things out of pocket that would be covered by one’s insurance. Sadly, even when a person without means has been paying their premiums, they can easily find themselves in my friend’s position: falling through the cracks.

The last week or so, I have had a situation that I needed to see a GP for. I have also nursed an unhealthy dislike for visits to doctors for a while, a situation fuelled by my pecuniary circumstances. During that time, however, I have continued to pay for NHIF.

As I bailed out my friend, they urged me to check my NHIF status* (send ‘ID xxx’ where xxx is your ID number to 21101) lest the same fate should befall me. I was current and my friend took the chance to tell me I could use my cover for outpatient services, too.

So it is that one’s situation may soon be fixed at no great cost thanks to these things: friendship, the habit of paying for certain things and the bitter-sweet knowledge that not all poverties are equal.

*This is not a sponsored post.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at

Questions, comments, suggestions or health insurance tips? Send them to 🙂





I’m really horrible at asking for help. This is not a good thing less than ideal.

Every so often, though, I ask. Meekly, pretty certain *nobody* will say yes, or maybe, or even no. Assured, for whatever reason, that the answer will be no. Yet, over and over again, the generosity of people astounds me.

This is for the people who messaged me after my SOS message on Twitter, the ones who continue to reach out, the ones who say, “Hey, are you OK?” even in the knowledge that the answer may be no.

Thank you all for the reminder to stay open, to stay willing to speak, and here’s yours that I’m an email away. And if I can, I shall, or I’ll try beam out a message.

Ann Daramola never fails to point out that we are surrounded by love. I have felt it keenly; I am overwhelmed and terribly grateful.

Related (because she is such a source of joy and light & this is something to highlight): Aisha Ali wrote about consent in Brainstorm today & will be moderating a session on consent and gender violence against women on Saturday. Go, if you can, the panel is amazing & the audience is bound to be interesting.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at

Questions, comments, suggestions or looking for SOS-related contacts? Send them to 🙂

Seeking a guide to love for *women

This week has been pretty interesting because a series of events has forced me to think more than a little bit about what being friends with other *women and *girls means. This is not a new thing (examining and reexamining sisterhood) and it gives me little joy to admit that the catalyst for this was a *man.

Men, actually, but one more than most. This man has made me question some of the very strong ideas I sometimes see: ‘real’ men, ‘strong’ men, ‘good’ men, f*ckboys. Especially the last category. Which one of us is unidimensional, which one is only a sister, a friend, a father, a dentist/ writer/ lawyer/ consultant?

This is where my questions around sisterhood arise: how does one tell a sister that a person they like is dangerous (an abuser who is physical immediately comes to mind)? How does one tell a sister that a person is dishonest, unfaithful, unwilling to make space for a woman’s success?

I’m not asking idly. I have found myself in situations in which I have wished a woman who knew had called me aside and said, “Hey, Cumin, that guy will break your heart like this” so that I could go into a relationship with something resembling informed consent.

If you have a method to deal with the madness that accompanies a broken heart at best, and a bereaved family at worst, please let me know.

[*woman, because sometimes your writer presents as something other than female and is called Mike. Because there are as many ways to be a woman as there are women.]

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at

Questions, comments, suggestions or truth talking tips? Send them to 🙂

Happy, the movie

Just watched a movie about being happy at PAWA254. Now listening to Eiji Han Shimizu who was part of the team that made the film (he does manga, too!).

It made me happy because I was with Trish ♥ & Nani & I ended up sitting next to an AIESEC friend.

Also, so many things resonated and it spoke to a part of me that’s been feeling like happiness was out of reach.

Cheat sheet: personal growth, close family and friends, & a sense of community. That’s it; that’s what you need for 40% of your happiness portion. Because 50% is down to genetics & 10% is all about exercise and being active.

Also, meditating on compassion and loving-kindness; which is something I struggle with. So, yes, mindfulness.

Watch it, if you can. It was really good.

Silent cabbies and the passenger’s gaze

Roo and I went to see In The Driver’s Seat at Shifteye Gallery yesterday over lunch. I am a big fan of Easy Taxi (& its vouchers 😁) so I was keen to see this exhibition.

Reader, I was underwhelmed.

Wait, it doesn’t count as a review if you say one thing.

Take 2:

The photos (shot by Louis Nderi) were great on the composition end. Well hung, as pieces generally are at the gallery, and interesting shots of drivers.

It didn’t feel like I got the thing on the box. The messaging had promised a look at the lives of drivers and the things they get up to when passengers are not around. These men (and a woman) were nameless faces without captions to clue us in on their stories.

You know what it felt like? Visiting someone’s house in the 90s and going through their albums in their absence.

Nice shots, not much by way of story. Go for the pictures.

The spelling bee who couldn’t e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e

My family didn’t have a TV till I lobbied for one successfully at the age of 6. @andywarhola could write tales about that, too. The distinct and utter lack of a TV. Or, going to the neighbour’s house to watch one. On the sly. That house, for me, was my friend Subira’s (her name means patience, goes to show) and that of a boy called Dan (who had three brothers-the beginning of my love affair with friendships with male people). That makes two houses… Yay me.

I taught myself to read at the age of 2. I read the same book -‘Kaka Sungura na Ndugu Mbweha’-over and over again till I could read effortlessly. If you are a Kenyan and you read that book; high five. My parents were the epitome of student poverty. Maybe I exaggerate but as I have grown older I have realised our charmed counter-cultural life (no help, no TV) was a response to the general absence of money. That and the accompanying surfeit of love. The egalitarian environment-father bathes child as mother labours over stove before father reads child book and mother tucks in child as father washes dinner dishes-was indicative of the fact that their reality did not allow my parents the privilege of traditional gender roles.

Did I just say ‘traditional gender roles’?

Fights with the being that has usurped her body & wrests control of her blog from it.

Phew! That was close! This post was inspired by @French_Freddy who urged me write a little something (is this little enough, Fred? May I stop now?) about why I read as my contribution to Kenya’s Reading Revolution (@readkenya on Twitter). Plus the encouragement of Juliet Maruru (@sheblossoms on Twitter) Aleya Jamel (@aleyajamel on Twitter) and tweeps such as @twezlie and @EdwinAbuga

“Quit stalling, lady!” a voice shouts from the gallery. All right my good people, these are my confessions:

I read because it’s an escape. At just about the point when the world has thrown all manner of things my way, it throws a book that rights my upside-down existence and evens the valleys. Then I walk through; barely looking up but safe in the knowledge that I shall survive and live to read another day. It’s an escape from the misery, the uncertainties of life. @veelangat and @kemikali can testify to that far-away, did-you-say-something, effect books have on me. And they know me well enough to be agents of the universe when I need a book thrown my way. The book cover as trapdoor. Escape.

I read because it’s what we do in my family. Reading as tradition. My brother T, now 11, used to read the paper upside down as a toddler. Read, in a manner of speaking. More like observe the text with a keen, intent look. Trying to piece together what it was that kept his pre-teen sister and parents so absorbed. And when he started to read, his enthusiasm couldn’t be curbed. Now that I’ve written that, I’ve remembered how I used to ask the butcher to wrap the meat in particular pages of the newspaper so that I could read the article on the paper when I got home. My mother knew I did this-I requested those very sheets of paper even when she was the one buying meat with me by her side-and she approved of it. That’s just, as the young would say, how we roll.

I read to be informed. The written word as teacher. My parents are of that in-between generation that had never talked about sex(uality) with their parents but was faced with the scourge that is AIDS at the time when their children were growing up. To talk or not to talk? Or in my parents case, to foist books on said child or not? Foist not, converse not; my parents decided. And being lovers of the spoken word, they would not choose to deny themselves the chance to have The Conversation. Many times. I read a plethora of Sex-Ed books. Christian ones, secular ones, NGO-funded ones….with some Kama Sutra thrown in at 11 or 12; for good measure. I couldn’t be bothered in those days; I actually thought they were being nags. These days, when I am with my age-mates and I am treated like an oversexed female person for all the knowledge I have, I see what motivated my parents. Knowledge is power. I am powerful. It’s not just about the birds and the bees that I read to be informed. The world, money, power, war and peace. Love, pain, pleasure; one knows so much more when one reads.

This will sound ridiculous but I read to learn to write. By which I mean spell. @kemikali (the man usually referred to as X) has made a comedy out of my inability to pronounce words. My constant rebuttal? I can spell them. I know, it’s lame, I should go for Toastmasters or something similar. But why, when I can spell, spell, spell? My brother, rearing himself on a steady diet of TV (how time flies! How things change!) can spell a word by the hearing; I can explain a word by the reading. I’m the spelling bee who can’t pronounce words, he is the champion born too many miles from the Big Apple. And so I continue to read. I may never get to say myriad words as they should be said (on what side of the Atlantic, ask I?) but at least I can write them. From the gallery, “Write on, sister! Write on!”. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

I read to experience the full gamut of human expression and feeling. The happy, the sad, the flights of fancy, the ideas that transform, heal, change. The Bible, the Qur’an, the inspired writings of Kahlil Gibran. Frost, Garcia Marquez, Soyinka, Ngugi, Mahfouz, Gordimer, Adichie, Arundhati Roy….Emily Dickinson (or My high school crush). Those ‘trashy’ romance novels (my dad encouraged me to read those as a teenager; so I could wrap up the fantasy bit of my life that much sooner, I guess), those bits of classic literature (I used to drive my mum to church and sit at the park outside reading ‘War and Peace’, heathen that I was; ha ha), contemporary literature. I may never be left on bridge by a lover, or have a lesbian one; but I can read the experiences of one who has. I have never been to Kathmandu and shall never go to apartheid South Africa though I have a sense of what it’s like to be in those places.

A story: Once I was at a supermarket and an autistic child (thank you, Reader’s Digest) walked up to me and held my hand as he looked into my eyes with a piercing look. I was, quite honestly, enchanted (I was 19 and sans lover; not a lot of people were lining up to look at me like that) and held his hand as I greeted him and asked him his name (he told me) before his mum came and took him away. Greetings, transfer of child, best wishes. Then we met again at a the pharmacy in the very mall. A repeat of what had happened earlier and a fresh round ofgoodbyes.

I may never have a child, let alone an autistic one, but I felt like I had met that child before. In a book. Not this specific one but the different, the unusual, the outcast, the misunderstood. I had met him in his world and in those of others and I felt like I was meeting an old friend when I met that lad. My empathy was informed by my knowledge of that child from the wealth of books read. The world is full of experiences, situations, feelings, that we may never chance upon. Yet, in a book, we get to experience all these. And so much more.

I read because it’s a cheap means to wealth. No, I’m not talking about all those motivational books. I am talking about a wealth of knowledge, of expressions, of feeling, of twists and turns; and of money, too. The book that costs one less than 50 US cents that transports you to a whole new world (cue Aladdin on the magic carpet), the fantasy worlds explored. I realised, as an adult, that bar ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’, I read all the other fairy tales in their unabridged form. That is to say, as The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen first presented them (thank you, Penguin Popular Classics). The student poverty mentioned earlier was the chief cause but looking back, I can honestly say I grew up rich. I got a slice of history and it was a gift that kept giving. I went to 19th century England, and walked with Mowgli through the jungle. I learnt why things fell apart and pieced together the reason behind all the strange animals in those Australian cartoons (Australia was a bit of an obsession at age 5) as I ran away from the Amazonian creatures on my way to the ruins of ancient civilisations. All this while I admired the Sphinx and cried over the beloved country. All this knowledge, all this history for the girl who was rich because she read.

So much for my ‘few words about why I read’, huh? But these and so many more are the reasons why I read. I could go on and on but as I conclude I would like to say that nothing opens the mind more than books read, nothing whets the appetite for knowledge better than the written word, nothing quenches the thirst for answers more than that which comes to you through reading.

I am a Kenyan who reads and I support the Reading Revolution. Why do you read?

Tagged: All the tweeps mentioned herein who love to read and haven’t written about why they read

Conversations in Silence

Instead of a trip to the doctor with SSS on February the 18th , we went to…. Goethe Institut in the evening for the opening of ‘Conversations in Silence‘… There were 3 partnerships and a single artist’s work…

From the original program, it had been anticipated that Miriam Syowia Kyambi would be part of the project, which was essentially a Bauhaus University alumni (B)/Kenyan artists (K) one, but that was evidently not the case on our arrival. Why that is, we know not. This project was intended to explore the nature, extent, influence on, types of, and means of commemorating Kenya’s collective memory. This post aims to say a little of my impressions of the exhibition. I went to the opening as well as two more times; with SSS and then E so I hope I present a, shall we say, rounded view to the nature of the exhibition.

Karolina Freino (B) & James Muriuki (K) presented 3 separate pieces; 2 of which are related (at least to me…) In one, a video, Muriuki interviews a lady called Peninna who sells potatoes at Nairobi’s Toi Market (I have always wondered why it’s called that but…not to digress) as she postulates on the role of women in providing support for their children, the reduced role of men in the same and why some jobs are still ‘women’s jobs’. Market women all over Africa are exposed, informed, and opinionated. This one does not disappoint & makes for interesting viewing.

In another of the works of Freino & Muriuki; they placed piles of potatoes, monuments to trade in a manner of speaking, near various monuments around the city of Nairobi. The contrast is striking, making one view both the potatoes and monuments in a new light… The contrast between the Nyayo Monument at Nairobi’s Central Park and the pile was most engaging for me; this is a monument built to commemorate the reign of a man during whose time in office Kenya was brought to its knees and there next to it was an enduring testament to the desire of all Kenyans to improve their lot. Substitute those potatoes for cassavas, cabbages, coconuts and so on and you have the story of a country striving, sometimes against the establishment. SSS was especially enthused by a photo that the pair had taken atop a building with the sun, bright, in the background. I was happy to see her enjoying herself. It was her first time at an opening and at the encouragement of our new friend Gnash, she spoke to Muriuki about the possibility of a print. What delights one gets with friends!

The last of their works is ‘How are you?’, a recording of the chant one often hears directed at white people in the slums of Nairobi. They provide a ring tone at that they hope will set off conversations and lead us to ask questions regarding the role of the Westerner, aid, the NGO world, dependence. If I had not gone to Mathare with my German friend J (read about it HERE), I would have found it quite hilarious, this piece. Walking in Mathare with J, though, I heard children repeatedly chant those very words in our direction. The fact that at some point we were walking through the slum carrying some wood as we set off to build a fence only reinforced his role in their minds: Do-gooder. Almost 50 years after independence, we have such a long way to go….

Deqa Abshir (K) & Drusica Drazic (B) worked on 2 items: ‘The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ as well as a pillar in Kibera. I looooved the coat. The idea behind it is the memories of Somali refugees in Kenya and it has images from their time in their country of birth on it. Each of the people photographed in the coat give it distinct character. At the opening, Deqa offered the people present an opportunity to get into the coat and be photographed. My excitement at the chance (I had been asking X if the possibility of wearing the coat, right there on a mannequin, existed) led me to clap before her statement was over. Which would have been embarrassing if I had the capacity for shame. SSS & I got photographed so when you go for the exhibition, look out for the shots from the opening… the shameless-looking girl? That’s me 🙂 At least you know I’m a girl, ha ha.

Their other work was a concrete pillar they put up in Kibera (inarguably every Mzungu’s favourite slum in Kenya) as a means of commemoration which they hope will grow into something larger and even more significant. Images from its planning and construction were put up. I generally do not find installations accessible so, in classic fashion, I glossed over the thrust of the pillar. Better people shall yet come after me and appreciate that pillar. I hope.

Sam Hopkins (B) & Kevin Irungu (K) had 2 related pieces and they collaborated with a man named Ashif to actualise them. Their work, called ‘Ochuo’s Funeral’, is related to a funeral of a Kibera resident that caused quite a stir in the slum & its environs. Half of their work is a video of a re-enactment of the funeral and other half is a series of interviews with various people (all men, I noticed) who were, in one way or another, part of the planning & execution of the funeral. If any piece of work spoke to memory & the perceptions of people in this exhibition; it was, for me, this one. Every single one of these men remembered some version of the event that was a bit different from other people’s. And enjoyable, more especially if you understand street Kiswahili. This exhibition was being curated-originally-by both Sam Hopkins & Potash (Matathia Charles Anthony) but Potash pulled out due to ethical issues related to ‘Ochuo’s Funeral’. What they are, I wonder. Granted, I put that down on the comment book on the 28th but I want to ask it gain on this forum…. Potash, fungua roho yako!

Finally, Irene Izquierdo’s work. She made a foray into Hilton Square and met some very intriguing characters…some of whom were on hand to entertain on the day of the opening. There is also a video of the people who sit there speaking of their experiences that is peppered with various performances. I’m going to say this; because it’s my blog. I have never in my 20-plus years of living in Nairobi, seen that much entertainment at Hilton Square. Either all those artists are sitting on their talent waiting to be discovered as we walk past or that was an act for the Mzungu. This is a very un-PC thing to say but my sponsors asked me to be honest. One could feel the Mzungu interference with the accounts of Ochuo’s funeral but it was not as marked as with the Hilton Square work. There is an accompanying book that one would do well to read…if only for some insight.

On the whole, an interesting exhibition worth a go-see. The opening was lots of fun; what with X there, our friend LFGrad taking photos and meeting Gnome as SSS was introduced to the wonderful world of art, and openings at that. As well as so many of The Usual Suspects being as fun as they always are 🙂 X and I have been on a roller-coaster of late; I’m afraid what we have is in a precarious position but going for the opening gave us a chance to be together without the tension that has characterised our interactions of late. Thank you, art world.

As Wednesday from ‘The Addams Family’ just said on TV (we are all watching Boomerang); many thanks and much love. I’ll be back soon 🙂 END(1st Mar 2011)