Longer than your average

Even your friendly under-the-rock dweller has seen a few of the #FeesMustFall tweets and has an idea of the demands of SA students. A tweet from Ndinda reminded me today of the place of history in protests; the way the past, the present and the future meet every so often to fortify.

Once in a (long, thankfully) while, I post something personal on the internets. This is one of those moments. Not so much the feels as a minor explainer about the way I feel about politics and history.

My parents had me quite young and in a sense, I grew up with them. When this happens, your parent is learning lessons, navigating life, with you by their side. So it was that in the 90s, my father left our little home to go to Kamukunji, to take part in the Saba Saba protests. So it was that our household, led by a woman because her partner was in school, almost saw the chance of a brighter future taken away because that partner had been visited by state functionaries. His crime: writing and editing an incendiary magazine at his college, chumming about with Wafula Buke and the lot.

For many years, before I understood how women can be eliminated from the narratives of the revolution, I considered my father the revolutionary . My mother, well, she was Mummy. Bread and broth on a Saturday morning, love, the one who spoke my first language. Not a revolutionary. Yes, the student of history (one of the only 2 As I scored in KCSE) thought that being lobbed with teargas was the measure.

Women hold the planet up, women sustain the revolution. For this reason, I am terribly excited about the fact that the protests are being led by young women. Listen, my maternal grandmother was a news junkie (I know where that comes from) and when Nelson Mandela was released and went on to spurn Winnie, she reminded my mother who it was of the two of them that had kept the struggle alive; who it was that had continued to risk their life.

Women have been written out of revolutions for so long, it’s refreshing to see them front and centre now. African women, black women, outspoken women who will not be silenced like their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunties. Women like my grandmother who, over 10 years after Kenya gained independence, still had no photo ID that was just hers. Women like my mother, who had to be issued a passport on a man’s file, my father’s.

I have been paying attention to history for a while; what option do I have with a family like mine? And yet, I absorbed the falsehoods that are wrapped up in a product created by the oppressor. What I know is that 12 years of studying History in Kenya had me believing that Jomo Kenyatta was a hero, that the land question was answered when the White Men left power, that the oppression of the Black person ended when the White Men left, that the face of freedom and progress is a man’s. These women stand the real risk of being erased, being forgotten, and the girls of the future believing what I too believed for so long; women are not revolutionaries.

Teach your children these truths: the Mau Mau had women among their ranks, say the names of the women who fought oppressors (Mekatilili wa Menza, Wangari Maathai, Winnie Madikizela Mandela), teach them that women fuel the revolution, they feed it, they strengthen it, they instruct it, they lead it. Teach them what the revolution looks like.

And to my mother: Thank you for keeping my father and I alive with food, love and support during those years. Thank you for telling me the stories of the women in our family who fought against the forces that tried to keep us down, thank you for keeping my grandmother’s memory alive these 20 years. Thank you for doing the valuable, unappreciated, undervalued work that is care. Thank you for those stories about the past that are really glimpses of the past, history primers. Thank you for saying the names of those people and those places that this country would rather forget. May I never again forget.

Asante, asante, asante.

Note: I have undertaken to write a post a day for a year. I’m collating all the posts (spanning 3 blogs) using the hashtag #CuminWrites366. If you have questions,compliments, or want to find out where the bodies are hidden, the address is kenyanwithattitude@gmail.com

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.

Just pull the trigger

That video is characteristic of this blog sometimes….so way off topic that it’s sensible [maybe]

I went to my uncle’s funeral on the 30th of last month. Hence the title…as it was a police funeral…

My trigger is Psalm 23…the priest [my (maternal) family is Anglican] read it out and all my sadness came spilling out. All the tears I hadn’t cried since the ones I had cried when I called my mum across the country on the day he died (March 24) and cried as I walked in a mall…

Psalm 23 (New King James Version)

A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the LORD
Forever.

Loss, ag. Loss is hard, it’s painful, it’s like that itch you can’t scratch but you can’t stop thinking of. Loss is listening to words of condolence & not hearing them. Loss. Loss is wanting the person you love to call you so you have someone to cry to and not being able to call them yourself because you don’t know what to say when they pick the phone.

I told X these things on Saturday (the 10th) but I’ll say them here:

My uncle was my mum’s older brother and he was there for me from the time I was little…including listening to my advice as a 2 year old: ‘Mama — wendo wa cash money ni hatari'<<Kikuyu phrase I’d picked up on radio that roughly translates to ‘The love of cash money is dangerous’, ‘Mama’ being the Kikuyu word for Uncle, specifically maternal uncle, as a paternal one is called ‘Baba'(father)  like you would call your own. The things I didn’t listen to as a child…. 😀 Or believing in my ability to be a great driver…and praising my skills to anyone who’d care to listen…even when I needed his help to go up a hill in my manual transmission car…

My uncle…who let his children drift away from him for ages till my mum practically strong-armed his ex-wife into suing for child support…and who, surprisingly, took up the task like he had been waiting to be prodded. My uncle who had big dreams for his sons. My cousin who was informed of his father’s death by a motorcycle taxi rider because his mother, my uncle’s first wife, was waiting for him at home….waiting to tell him face to face. My cousin who’s now fatherless, bereft of the father that was my uncle.

The man who was HIV+ (I shall not sweep matters under the carpet for a second longer) and told no-one. NO-one….when we would have been here to support him. He died from menengitis, an almost-always definite killer for those with the virus. Oh, what for lack of telling we suffer. The man who my uncle, his last born brother, was scared to tell, “Go get tested,” because he was always larger than life….even when he was ravaged by the virus.

This man who went back to Police College to get promoted, who made an idiot of all those who stereotype the Kenya Police. He read books (‘The Constant Gardener’ at his death), he never stole (and trust me, not for lack of opportunity)… This man who put family first even though he faltered sometimes.

My uncle who I thought I knew yet who made me realise that in death your not-knowing is that much greater. My uncle who sacrificed to make sure his siblings went to school at a time when my grandfather was going through a rough patch. He that looked, and acted, so much like his father, my grandfather. A man of honour, a resilient man, a man of quiet strength.

The man who, even though it would have been easy to resent my mother for her child-support machinations, always treated her with respect. So much respect that he was one of the first of my mother’s people to embrace my father; a man from another tribe who had put his sister in the family way…because he saw my father’s honour would not allow him to let me grow up fatherless.

My uncle who saw the end coming and called his first and second wives to his bedside-to make peace. My uncle whose first wife used to peel my cousin (his first son) and I plums during plum season & pears during pear season when I lived at my grandfather’s place as a child. My aunt, his first wife, who was the first person who was an aunt to me; my mother having been brought up, like me, sisterless. My aunt who made me a doll with buttons and cloth that I swiftly discarded at the birth of her first son…because I preferred a real baby 🙂 My aunt who has always loved me like her own…who would never have come into my life without my uncle.

My uncle who showed me and my mother how much he loved us in his distinctly African way. With actions, actions, actions. Who looked out for my aunt L & her family even though they were not his kin (by blood, or choice-as they are mine), who looked out for us during post-election violence; who spirited his sons to safety during that period.

I could go on forever….but this is my tribute to a great man. I hope no uncle of mine dies on me in this fashion again…with me having been silent on him…not letting him know I love him in words; not knowing all the dimensions to him. My uncle who showed me how fleeting life is…who didn’t live to be 50, or see his son go to college. Who made me rethink the way I treat the people I love [Ah, you know I love you], who made me realise how isolating death and loss are. My uncle whose death has made me more forgiving of others (like my friend whose father died on the 5th of this month and was buried today, who had not told me he was dying of cancer….before my uncle’s death, I’d have been wounded by her not-telling….but when I think back to MY not-talking about his illness…..) who died to make me love people more fiercely.

My first police funeral was of a man I deeply respected. As I leave you with this song by The Script, all I can say is….as the song says…..the truth of these words is terribly immense:

When your heart breaks, it doesn’t break even

There are all these little bits to put together….but we shall survive.