Let’s talk about $3x

Wanjeri Gakuru wrote about having honest conversations about sex over at Brainstorm today. She manages to capture the sex talk landscape in Kenya, or lack thereof.

I’m hopeful that this sparks a conversation about the things we do in the dark of night, in public, in random places.

Who knows? Wanjeri could start a podcast like Death, Sex & Money. Thank you for this, Wanjeri!

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

Questions, comments, suggestions or sex tips? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com 🙂


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

I am a Nairobian | I choose to write

Yesterday I went for a public reading organised by the Young Writers Project in Nairobi & met lots of awesome people who I only knew from Twitter…good times.

And on Saturday & Sunday, I was going through a phase. It was called, “My body is mine…it’s my choice, ergo I want to lose my virginity…” can’t find a taker, though. Being as I can’t walk up to a guy Madonna-style (I’m nowhere near the Material Girl in very many senses…) and express this desire. That sort of leaves one person, X.

About the reading….I went because of a wonderful AIESECer called Lionel Oduol who was going to read an excerpt of his work (read the full version here) who told me about it at the AIESEC (from this point onwards referred to by the symbol @) office at my school (yes, I joined @, don’t ask…). Going to the event page on the Facebook revealed that an high school mate of mine would also be reading some of her work (read it here) & gave me that much more motivation to go to the event. I guess my conversation with this girl who was in my year at my school who claimed that we are inarguably the most disloyal bunch of ex-school mates…so I was going against the grain…with much enjoyment on my part. Good times…

My body is my own, I decided over the weekend. All those people in my life who have an opinion on it that I factor so greatly in my body-related decisions? They count only as much as I let them…and I choose to have myself as the #1 body decision-maker in my life. So my body is my own. To treat well, to share with a person or people, to have all to myself. So I decided that I want to lose my virginity. Because my body is my own & I want to get rid of the thing around my neck the thing that…ah, you know what I mean.

Little problem: one needs an accomplice & to keep quiet when one makes a decision of that sort. I failed on both counts. I told my twin, and E & L….get a grip, sister. Take it easy…you are LIBERATED. The lines I have not used on myself. To think that guys try to convince girls to go to bed with them; this girl was doing quite a job all by her lonesome… I talked to all these people because I wanted to make a safe, smart decision…..but I failed to consider the implications of this question I was asked by my friend L on telling her I wanted to lose my virginity:

“And who do you want to lose it to?”

What?? I was stupefied by her question. The one and only, I said. Talk is cheap, and so is your body if not much thought is being put into the actions you plan. My biggest issue….that I may get pregnant….so  how to stay un-pregnant.

Continued weeks later:

Not how to stay un-hurt. Or how to act when I was reeling in shock at X’s response: NO.

I went to Mathare Valley (a slum in Nairobi) almost 2 weeks ago. I am a changed woman. It is good to be an @er…..but I am not an @er. I know, I flummox myself, too, and I’m the one speaking. Mathare changed me & made me realise a few things. Such as what, you may ask?

I am a RICH GIRL. So what my bank balance was once 11KES? At least I have never looked around me and seen misery everywhere. I had to use a bathroom and so was led to the lone one at one end of the slum. To say I was traumatised would be the understatement of the year. My first thought when I left the facility was, “I would never give birth to a daughter in this environment.” The irony that is life, twisted and ugly; a lady that didn’t know me gave me water with which to wash my hands. Her child’s sex? Female.

Africa shall never develop as long as we think some white man will come to sort us out….yet the said white man is the only one that dares venture into the slums. If it hadn’t been for these 3 @er interns, I would probably never have ventured into the valley (which is, quite honestly, an abandoned quarry). 10KES away on a matatu, a world of differences away. The white man has a colourful story of African poverty to tell on his return home and what do I, a Kenyan, have? I thank them, though, for opening my eyes to my city. And I want to say here: Jan, thanks a mil 🙂

The generosity of the poor. Here’s a cup, offers the girl’s mother, clean your hands with this water and soap. You may be a stranger but I shall help you. The chances that that would have happened in my old neighbourhood, right. What spurs these people who have so little to give? Lessons to learn, I guess.

Amazing graffiti. On the walls around Mathare that were not made of mud. It put a lot of the things I have seen on the side of town in which I live to shame. The vibrance of the colours, the artistic voice of the young people who had pointed those walls. These people the city has cast aside are alive, and well…..and creative. And they are telling their stories on their walls.

I have amazing strength. I can haul timber as well as any boy. I can speak Kikuyu, inarguably the language of business in Kenya, to the benefit of those I’m with. I went to Mathare with an @ intern I had picked alone at the airport. He has opened my eyes to myself. I, it turns out, know lots of people-this is something I can harness. I am capable of so much… Thank you Mathare 🙂

Clarity. I place X on a pedestal. But there are things that are more important. Friends, family, love. And not the sort of love I have for him, the sort that my brother feels for me…. X has a life of his own, why don’t I? Why do I find it hard to say, “This far is enough”? “This is what I want”? Why do we go back and forth and say things in a convoluted fashion? Why do I agree so easily to be beaten down about my body? Part of it came from me mis-hearing his ‘mentor meeting’ as ‘Mensa meeting’… Thinking to myself, “I’m smart, too..” had crazy results.

I met someone on the night of the day I went to Mathare. Smart, interesting, not X. I projected all the things I want on him, then I remembered I have X. Except I realised I want to be with X because there is so much to gain being with him, than to lose without him. Sometimes he feels so inaccessible. And yet…. So what are these things I projected? Desire (yes, I said the D word, so shoot me), openness…this guy I had just met, he was telling me so much, expressiveness…the feeling that I didn’t have to push him to a corner to hear his voice ring clear and true.

I am a Nairobian. I shall return to Mathare. I choose to write. I shall post an entry at least once a week. I choose to write; I have no plans of letting all those who habour this or that opinion of me rule my life. I am a Nairobian who chooses to write…

Fuzzy Lumpkin

You know the guy; from Power Puff Girls. He hairy; he so hairy he don’t got no skin (speaks like that, too 😀 )

I’m through with shaving, really I am. I’m going natural. OK, I’m not being honest. I’m kinda going natural. That is to say some bits will remain artificial…he he he…like my accent (as if, I’d be working for Nairobi’s Capital FM if I had one of those)……while my hair stays well away from a salon. Eh, how will I survive? It’s hard going without processed hair in the wonderful city I shall soon go back to called Nairobi…I mean, seriously, who will accept me…Neanderthal female that I shall have transformed into? The Good Lord help me (religious references are high today, what?) and keep me from salons. Amen (resounding like those televangelists who keep you glued to your TV screen, you know they do)!!! Preach, The Shaboozle, preach! Mmh, Imma testify (I’ve moved from redneck to black in one post….too much American TV, I’m going Brit…he he he).

Eh, but white people make not-shaving sound like a crime. Oh, my mother’s friends chose not to shave etc, goes one Obama (the president, not one of the girls….I said white people)… And they died. No, seriously, they did! Of being hairy…Obituary went something like this:

Obama’s Mum’s friend…loving mum, friend yada yada yada… No flowers. Please donate to the End to Anti-shaving campaign.

And there was a nice ribbon on the side as were once popular for people who passed away from AIDS. Really, people, you can survive with body hair. And let’s not even talk about J’s friend N who’s a religious waxer (hail the order of the waxed); the universe help her when her hair grows back (God forbid); her skin shall itch like you wouldn’t believe. Not that I’m speaking from experience, you see. I’m highly perceptive, and a voracious reader. That’s all my information 🙂

Got a letter from X on Friday. It’s coming to a close soon, that relationship of his with The Shaboozle, I tell you. I have seen the writing on the Facebook wall. I realised his value system and mine are so different that we were going to be at war soon. He has a weapon of mass destruction distraction that he’s not using. It’s called technology. He said [in response to the message I promised to send him in this entry] that I ‘mean a lot’ to him & he won’t let his issues get in the way but updated his Facebook status to say he’s only human (hence can only do so much etc) so I was pretty pissed (I love me some alliteration) when I saw that. [Aside: his mum was unwell at the time & my mum & I agreed message was a bit un-empathetic. Apologising turned out to be a ticket for him to resume previous behaviour. They always said not to apologise, he he he]

And then he’s willing to tell me things about himself he would do well to keep to himself. Today the voices in my head were talking to each other (the voices of Me, Myself & I can get loud at times…especially when I am asleep and they contrive to masquerade as characters in my dreams…I’m on to you, Voices In My Head) and they were telling X that I wouldn’t be able to tell my our children about Justice & Fairness. In this, I think the voices in my head were watching Al Jazeera English along with me as Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan interviewed Hanan Ashrawi [get a life, you voices! or your own programmes to watch for Pete’s sake] Reason: he got his internship through his mum’s contacts (it had to be done because he’s so daft someone has to arm-twist someone else. Chief reason I’m going out with him, his IQ is soo high). And in his letter, he tells me about how his aunt enabled him to be bumped ahead on the queue when he went to his chosen hospital’s A&E (pompous new way of saying ‘Casualty’ but oh, doesn’t it sound classy…say it, you know you want to 😀 ) being as she worked there. Odd, I thought it was him I was telling that I loved England for the fact that everyone there respects the queue. Here, in Kenya, to ask someone to join & respect a queue is seen to be an act of courage. Oh, look at me, I’ve walked in Baghdad during bombings…and asked someone to respect a queue. Where is my Nobel Peace Prize, already? More importantly, when did we get children? Someone is becoming a girl…eh! Save her from herself…

I was told, quote, I have ‘hiyo maneno yote’ (translation for my readers from the non-Swahili speaking world [usidharau Swa, it’s a UN working language, eh] : all that jazz) on my blog. I wonder if the person in question had in mind: what I say or how much I say. Idea: I could ask the said person [my brother W1’s mum L].

Unrelated news: I’m going to Lamu in November. Of course the lovely people at my university will give me 3 days off school for the Lamu Cultural Festival. I have organised accomodation at one of my best friends’ (my desk-mate in Form 2 and room-mate in Form 4’s. Wonderful school I went to. Friends in every corner of the republic…and beyond…) house. Thanks, Z. She’s an awesome friend, she is 🙂 And I’m set in terms of funds for the trip there & gifts for my friend’s family (whom I’ve never met…true friendship, I say) plus I’ve become a mini-expert on Lamu. Of course, I have. You don’t have to go somewhere to be an expert. Who goes to, say, Iceland…he he he [nothing against Iceland, I should visit]? It’s a joke, all you Icelanders looking at me with menacing eyes!

I am looking forward to a great week. For some reason. A good one; I think. Enjoy yours 🙂

Recommended author: The New York Times’ Donald G. McNeil, Jr. Terribly witty, he is. And a wonderful, wry sense of humour. Try him 🙂 [I’m not forcing issues, am I?]

Dope Joy Fresh

Sitting at my mother’s
Laughing my head off
It could be dopamine
Or joy

What, she asks
What drives me insane with mirth?
Why, think I
It’s the realization

That you no longer are mine
I am protecting she to whom I made a promise
Yes, her
The one whose heart I promised
Not to fragment

She loves you, you know
My mother, I mean
But she knows that laughter
It’s the way I hope to laugh
When you inevitably,
Predictably leave

Yes, I may not be
The one whose hand you don’t shrink from
But humour me a while
And hold me yet

And I may not be
The one with whom communication is much desired
But let’s play lovers for a bit
And pretend this letter
That call
Is an expression of what is

I may not be
And yet because I am
The one whose love is yours to take
The one who you claim to love and yet tell none
Pleasure me

**Yes, I know I’m on a roll today
And I wish my brother W could see this and know my art imitates my life
It is about X, he is being a pain in my back pew, I still want to be held by him