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 www.howreyou.mobi 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)

Friends & Benefits

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘quake’? More of that later.

2BF5 turned 18 yesterday. And W turned 21 on Saturday the 2nd. Welcome to (the much vaunted but really quite ordinary) world of adults, 2BF5; don’t worry if the difference is the same. W, now you can drink legally in even more jurisdictions in the world. Bliss. And the world ages yet again 🙂 Those two are some of the best friends a girl could ask for. But this post is (surprise! Surprise!) not about them. It’s about what happens when one girl lands a job that involves computers and cigarettes. And the stories that grow from that occurrence. Not necessarily in that order.

@ partners with various entities that support it in one way or another. On Wednesday of last week, I benefited from one of those arrangements. I got to attend an exclusive event that commemorated the awarding of $1million to a Kenyan tech firm for a mobile phone application (read the story here & learn more about the app here). It drew quite an interesting lot. Journalists, techies, dignitaries (yes, I said dignitaries. Like senior government officials & such) and the crowd that keeps Nairobi interesting (sometimes called bloggers) as well as twitterati (don’t I just love such words. In a few years, Oxford University Press shall publish it in an edition of its much-beloved Advanced Learners’ Dictionary. Poor learners.)… I was, quite honestly, just a lackey (with the quaint little title that is ‘usher’) but I earned ca$h mone¥ and met all sorts of interesting people.

Speaking of interesting people, I joined a UN agency committee that seeks to improve the lot of youth in Kenya and influence national youth policy in the country. Our first meeting was on the same day as the aforementioned job. It proved to be quite a busy day. Now I know how those jet setters who work myriad jobs do it. Sheer planning and determination. I feel blessed. All these opportunities that have been made available to me are cause for celebration. Joy. Rumination.

I would never have got the job (and money) were it not for Lionel (who I spoke of in my last post) and a drinking event that occurred that involved him, our overall boss at our @ chapter and our workmate, a certain MarkTM (that’s tracking manager, not trademark, thanks for asking). He jocularly asked me if I wanted a paying job and next thing we all know, your woman is at an event that rocked. So thanks, Lionel; with friends like you 🙂 🙂 That drinking party resulted in my drinking KK(Kenya King), a Kenyan spirit with 39.5% alcohol content. This being me, the 14% (woohoo!!) wine drinker., it was an experience like no other. A sweetness in my mouth, burning sensation in my throat, and warmth all over my body. But I liked the taste, that I shall not deny. Once I stopped taking it neat and threw in some soda called Krest Bitter Lemon, I was on a roll.

KK made me hyper-active. X, Mo, Marie, and yes, you, Magaribina; stop raising your eyebrows. I am not hyperactive. I went back to my room and did a ton of laundry till 2am. You read right, 2am. Couldn’t sleep. Oh, well, it’s better than being stupid and drunk. So, I guess every so often it’s good to go out of my comfort zone and experience what happens on the other side.

I’m a geek, it seems. That’s the reason I use, and like, Linux. And is that fact, I was asked, a mark of class? I was quite amazed by that question. Class, you say? I think not. I miss my friend L (aka Best Friend). She was around for the summer and we had a sleepover and weekend-over while she was around. It was great seeing her again after so long. Either Canadians have no accent or she didn’t pick one up. I was so happy to hear her voice when she called me the day after she arrived. It was a great summer for me. And she likes Linux, too. My friend Z, whose family so kindly opened its door and heart to me, was also in Kenya. I didn’t get to see her but I spoke to her; too. Did I say earlier that I am blessed? I shall say it again here. These girls remind me of the power of love and friendship. Continents away from me and yet we know that if we pick the phone, the other shall be on the other end ready to speak. Now that is love.

I joined a Bible Study (BS) group last month. I went for the first few meetings with X. I’ve missed only one meeting so far. Which meeting I missed because E & X took me to the students’ clinic as I threw up and had a migraine. The GP thought I was pregnant (only the second time that has happened in less than one month), as had another GP when she saw me knitting. Yes, knitting; how folksy. I’ve tried to get X to let me ask his mum to tutor me but I sense some reticence & being as my BS leader warned me against having relations that were too warm with the mother of my boyfriend, I shall probably never receive any lessons from XM. Oh well, the best laid plans of mice and men often come to nought (read Robert Burns’ poem here). The way that came out, my BS sounds like a cult (my leader said not to….) but we are just a motley collection of sinners. Some redeemed and some, such as yours truly, just doing what they can to be on the right side.

The job mentioned above. Myself, the Queen (so named by J because of the stunts he pulls) & a guy whose @ name is Member (who, I have realised, can do quite a good job of excluding one from @ activities and creating a members-only feeling) & D. We all, excluding Member, stood together after the job and smoked D’s cigarettes. What bliss; to be able to partake of cancer sticks among friends. The Queen & I had a chance to speak as the event wound down. He is a most interesting character….and a friend’s friend. Which is always a compliment. And the rest; I got to see new sides to them. Interesting, likeable sides. If @ continues like this-friendship, opportunities and,yes, money-I’ll enjoy the ride. Opportunities, I said. Because of another ushering job, I got to attend an amazing event (granted, I had planned on attending either way<<<‘granted’ is such an X word 🙂 There goes Miss Girlfriend) where I got to learn all sorts of intriguing things that will help me influence my family and community.

I might get to be a witness at the officiating of my friend’s union sometime next month. I say might because it’s an Islamic ceremony and I might be disqualified by my non-Muslimness. I’m excited for her. It takes guts for someone to make that sort of commitment. And the fact that she’s chosen to make it is a source of hope for me. It is possible to be happy in a marriage even if you are a member of our jaded generation. And I say jaded under advisement. We have seen the marriages of our parents and loved ones descend into chaos or be revealed to be shams and yet we take that risk ourselves. My brother was delighted to hear the news (being as Miss Lady is his big sister’s big sister) and, during our last conversation; asked after her and how the wedding preparations were going.

My brother. He is part of the reason I disappeared from the blogosphere. He had a stack of drama at school. And being like a child of mine, it threw me off-balance. He was out of school for a month during which I spoke to all sorts of people in an effort to reinstate him in school. Do these things only happen in Kenya or are they the scourge of developing countries? A month out of school because of a few teachers’ vendetta against one’s parent is enough to demoralise even the strongest child. But my brother is not just strong. He is the child of my parents. And my father and mother have not surmounted all those odds for their child to be beaten down by injustice. He still maintains his enthusiasm for education (thankfully, he’s known education and school to be divorced for a while) and now that he is back in school, he looks forward to high school with renewed dedication. Alliance High School; here comes The Shaboozle’s brother, T.

My brother. A delightful child who once drew X aside to advise him to treat me well, with respect, and not to cheat on me. T at 9. Indeed. I reminded X of that the other day. That infidelity would mean the end of whatever we have at the time at which it happened. He said, later, that my statement sounded like a dare. To cheat, to leave, to whatever. Honestly. I thought it was just a statement of fact. And after Tuesday of this week, I think it’s stretching it a bit to not want me to make such a statement. Tuesday, when I went to this opening where my friend J was showing one of her pieces. Before I lose focus, please go see it if you can. Tuesday, when X stood me up. Tuesday, when I [stupidly] called him to fish out an apology (sometimes I behave like an abused woman). Tuesday when he told me a story where all he kept doing was digging his own grave. He & my friend had taken over his cousin’s Facebook status update. This is a common happening, something I have done in the past myself. Then they had proceeded to talk of something he owed her with him explaining to his cousin (remember him?) that he knew her through ‘a friend’ (that would be yours truly). Ahem. I was explaining to 2BF5 today what really irritated me about that incident. In the conversation where he gives me an apology that the Swahili would describe as ‘shingo upande’ (literally; from the side of the neck to mean done grudgingly), he describes how he charms a girl in a public forum in which I am referred to as a ‘friend’. I have seen, in my life, the way a cheating spouse usually doesn’t lie from day 1. He may tell you all the story but as the story grows elements are removed to protect one or whatever notion crosses his mind. He has it in him to perpetuate a conversation with the friend of his ‘friend’ in a public forum where he sometimes does not deign to speak to the said ‘friend’. He repeats this story to me after telling me the reason why he didn’t even think to call me to cancel was because he had been derailed by his @ team. Well, thanks for making me see how the land lies; Mr Man. As I have said before; part of the reason I’m in college is because I’m smart. I get it.

I was bought a wonderful book by 2BF5 called ‘Notes from an Exhibition‘ last week. Hence the question at the beginning of this post. The story revolves around the loves, lives and losses of a group of people who are all influenced by a woman who dies at the beginning of the book who has bipolar disorder. It hit really close to home because my maternal grandmother was put in a mental institution several times in her lifetime before her death when I was 6. Like the central character in the book, she was quite a character. And strong. I laughed and cried in equal measure as I read that book. Never before has the content of a book spoken my truth so clearly. And it showed what I have always believed-that the human experience is universal. The differences are just those of location, names, race. But fundamentally, we are all the same. And I want to thank X for giving me the courage to say the words I have just said. In this post, he speaks his truth and in this one I speak mine. A lady in the book expresses her fear of pregnancy because her child may be mentally unstable. But the lady’s death gives her courage. Pregnancy, childbirth, rearing a human being; these are acts of courage. And the book also affirmed my admiration for my grandparents. My grandmother for living with a disease that has none of the glamour of most chronic diseases and raising well-balanced children who are adults anyone would be proud of and my grandfather for being a great dad and having the courage to live with her and stick by her side.

The book spurred me to attend a meeting of The Religious Society of Friends. Sometimes called Quakers. A group of people who, in the book, were calm and loving and welcoming. Sitting together in silence, contemplating God. No creeds, no chants, no hard and fast rules. I spoke to 2BF5 about the group and we ended up going for the meeting together this last Sunday, bless his multicoloured socks. Both our mothers were quite flummoxed by our choice of experimental religious group. His, especially. In Kenya, each church assumes a tribal profile, and that of Quakers in Kenya is a Luhya one. My mother, married to a Luhya, was quite aware of the Friends Church. Awareness doesn’t mean she took the decision to attend lightly; I have been known to have attended a church that, it later emerged, was a cult. 2BF5’s mother, on the other hand, was concerned but her concerns were similar to my mother’s: What draws you there? And our answers were similar: This group seems to have what we, as young people, so greatly desire. At this point, I want to thank my friend L for helping me know meeting times so 2BF5 & I could attend and 2BF5 for coming along with me. X was not impressed by 2BF5’s presence; saying he’d go with me to the next meeting. This is to be seen. Though in this one instance, I can’t be said to be choosing 2BF5 over X who has always declared his allegiance to his preferred church…

I was attacked last week but one. The only people I have told bar you are X, 2BF5, E & my Twin. E was the first I told as I went to her room after the occurrence to regroup. The Twin was not impressed by the fact that I didn’t tell her till the next day (religion and varied interests have pulled us apart, you can’t blame me…) The man was walking towards me one minute and the next thing I knew, there I was, on the ground with your woman being muzzled. Wrong move, buster…. I screamed my heart out. I had these thoughts running through my mind during that time: >I am being attacked >>I shall be raped by this man. These thoughts coalesced into >This man attacking me shall rape me<. Which made me scream so loudly that the cars that were on the road next to the scene (this was a major junction, close to midnight) stopped and my assailant fled. A man opened his door, asked if I had been robbed (no), hurt (no, again) and advised me to run home. Which admonition I obeyed readily. I have never been so afraid of the sight of a man that when one asked me if I had been the one screaming, I couldn’t get the voice to say; yes. I have become fearless; but maybe I need to be afraid. Had I not been fearless, I would not have been in that situation. Isn’t this what always happens? The victim blaming herself? I did not ask for it; I am stronger than the coward who tried to scare me into fearfulness.

X lost his grandfather less than a month ago. He spoke of his sorrow and his loss. And wrote about it (read his reaction here) and showed me new sides of himself. Such as the fact that he thinks of loss as a private thing. That he acknowledged my attempts to be there for him, stand by him at the funeral but politely declined. The fact that he wants to speak and yet your woman is always talking, talking, talking. If I just, well, shut up; he’d say his truth. The fact that he takes his role as the strong man seriously. That family really does mean a lot to him (this is nothing new but he reaffirmed his devotion to family); his love for his mother. What his grandfather meant to him and how men mourn. Differently from women; privately. That I count for something. Yes, I know what I said up there. But the fact that he spoke of his loss said something about how he feels for me. I remember how I pushed him away when my uncle passed away earlier this year. And yet the one person I wanted to hug me, to touch me, to tell me we would all survive….was him. I looked at my parents and how my father comforted my mother and I thought to myself, “I wish I had that.” And yet I did-he had offered to be there for me and I had said no. Because that is how I mourn; almost like self-flagellation. And so seeing him reach out to me said he loved and trusted me enough to believe I would be there for him. I care about him, I admit. And while, as I said, I may sometimes act like an abused woman; I have seen sides to this man that remind me why I stay with him…

Benefits: my assailant thought I was male. This happens to me a lot. I don’t wear gender-defining clothes and don’t have a very shall we say, female body. So I, in a sense, disarmed him when I started screaming like a girl (ha!) when he attacked me. It’s always been unnerving to be thought of as a boy. But because he was confused, I took advantage of the situation to defend myself. I don’t want to think about what would have happened to me if I had been visibly female. Rape? Death? I don’t want to fear walking the streets, being alive. I want to not have to think of my womanhood all the time; factoring it into every decision I make. I want to think of myself first and foremost as a person and secondly as a female person. Why, I wonder, did I think of rape so fast? Maybe all those messages I have received growing up (never from my parents) about how my husband will ‘wonder where my virginity went’ on our nuptial night have gone to my head. My hymen has risen so high in my list of important things that it has acquired a life all of its own and floated to a place where it has lodged itself in the part of my brain that reacts to danger.

Benefits: the strength of women. E was there to listen to me as I told the story of my attack and as I reacted to the book by going to a Quaker meeting. My twin was glad to allow me to join her BS to be able to claim a fellowship of friends and like-minded people. L aka Best Friend allowed me to see parts of my country I had never seen and to meet her sister. I am blessed. L going the extra mile to let 2BF5 & I know when the Quaker meetings were. My aunt L who has been there for me. And especially my mum who taught me the virtue of drawing from the strength of women; a lesson so well learnt from her mother. I am a stronger person for all the women whose presence has been felt in my life.

For all these and much more, may I always be grateful 🙂 <<Such a Rotaract thing to say (I got inducted last week, yay!) but so true, too.