These Shackles

You think I’ll be the dark sky
so you can be the star? I’ll swallow
you whole.”
― Warsan Shire

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One

20 years old. Hurlingham. “Hey.” Pause. “Hello.” Pause. “Excuse me! DON’T YOU REALISE I’M SPEAKING TO YOU.” I don’t know why I didn’t respond the first time man-who-looks-thrice-my-age-and-can’t-hide-his-leering-at-me, but I’m awfully glad I didn’t now. Also, here, have this tissue, your saliva is escaping.

“Hey, ladies.” Their car pulled up next to us. Nice car- the kinds you expect to see in Hurlingham.  Two men. Why is everyone looking at me like I’m a piece of meat?

Two

49 years old. I went home for Christmas with my husband. Dala. I had plans, not many. When I go with my husband, I do as he says, as they say- him and his brothers. This comes at a good time. My niece is getting married and I was in the wedding planning committee.

“Kiny wathi Sidindi.” He announced. Sidindi is his sister’s place. Something is going down there tomorrow. They knew it for months. They didn’t tell me. I was to go to the wedding. We can’t fit in the car the next day. They take the kids first. I’ll go in the next trip. Same difference. They treat us like kids anyway. I would have had better fun at the wedding.

Three

19 years old. I’m going into town tomorrow. I don’t know what to wear. Dresses become me, knee-length dresses, but I’m not in the mood to deal with all the whistling and exclamations. But the whistling is better than the words, because when these men speak I feel like they traded their mouths for pit latrines, and they make you feel like just that- a latrine. A boring top and trousers outfit will do for tomorrow. That’s decided.

Four

28 years old. I’m still an over achiever. Thank God. I got a house in Ongata Rongai. I’m not sure, but everyone treats my roommate and me funny.
“You girls should really stop this. Do you know he is neglecting his family to put you up here?” Ah! At least the shopkeeper is so kind as to shed some light. Even if a “he” existed that was paying my bills, why is he not being ostracized as well? Why am I the one they choose to be disappointed with?

Five

15 years old. They are awarding the top students. They award the best performers except in maths. Girls can’t do well in maths. They don’t want to be unfair and make them feel bad.

Six

19 years old. I told him I don’t watch Gor matches live because when I went the men touched me inappropriately, shoved me and were vulgar. He asked what was I wearing.

Seven

19 years old. He’s going away to study. They say he’s positioning himself to provide both of us with a better future. I’m going away to study. They say, “Tap that thing before someone else does.”

Eight

24 years old. A friend lost her mum last month. We are going to visit her. It’s not hard giving directions to her place. A little off University Way- right next to the hostel we shared as campus kids.

They are asking me why I am not dating. I say I haven’t met anyone yet. They say I don’t make enough effort. I ask what does it matter. And they say I can be all the things I want to be professionally. I can earn all the money I want. But without a husband, no-one will ever respect me-look up to me. I am heartbroken. Educated girls these are.

Nine

19 years old. He’s trying to get me back. “With me, you will have a great future.” What do you mean? How is my ability to plan the future I’ve always wanted for myself paralysed by your absence. “I’ll take care of you.” Oh, now I understand what you mean. How did you hide that you could think like that from me all this while?!

Ten

16 years old. I am in a bus home. You want my phone number. You are suffocating me. I can see your wedding band. I am just such “a beautiful thing” and you want to “f***” me. I get off the bus at Donholm. I’m too scared. Thank heavens I left town early. I can walk home to embakasi, and if ever you decide to come after me, you’ll look for me in Donholm. I hope.

Eleven

19 years old. Lecturer: Is it understood?
Loud full-of-life girl classmate: Yes!
Lecturer: If the girl has understood each of you should have.
I got 20/20 in the next C.A.T.

Twelve

20 years old. Twitter is all the craze now. Mwanamke ni. What a girl should be. Size and color and choice of clad and how I should look in my avatar and the things I am allowed to say and the ways I’m allowed to say them. I got this. All you need to do as a girl is side with the boys, or laugh a coy kind of laughter and say “Gawsh, you guys are mean” when they trash another girl. Do you ever wonder if they’ll ever come for you? Do you ever wonder, seriously, what she is going through.

Thirteen

17 years old. Men are offering me money for sex.

Fourteen

19 years old. He decided it was best for us…
YOU (singular) decided what was best for US?! I will hit someone with a pan.

Fifteen

20 years old. My friend wrote a blogpost. It’s about – you guessed it- how women should be. Cooking, cleaning, satisfying your husband sexually, caring for him, making sure he stays with you… I’m sorry dear reader, I too almost dropped a jaw, on the ground. What saddened me was not that telling me how to live my life, but telling me how to live my life in a way that will please men. And she got so much applause from it. So much that I read again to check if I had missed something. All I got the second time that I hadn’t before was a headache. Perhaps I’m being petty, because no-one else seems irritated by this.

Sixteen

13 years old. My cousin shouts at me to wake up. He wants me to get up and start working. I don’t understand what the big deal is. He’s awake and chewing sugarcane. All my other boy cousins are asleep. This is my father’s home. He is visiting. He threatens to report me to Aunty. I have to get up. Girls are not supposed to be asleep at this time.

Seventeen

19 years old. Our assignment involves drawing. “Ebu tuchekeshe,” the boys tell me. Make us laugh. I give them my work. I see them taken aback. I muse inwardly. Now they need my work to “refer” before the assignments are collected. Bam! Point made.
I can’t promise though, that I’ve never looked down upon what I can do because it’s not expected that I can do it well. And each time I surprise myself when I excel, I disappoint myself. I’ll break from these shackles. My daughter will not know these shackles.

Eighteen

16 years old. The constitution says to have women representatives. What do they do? Why is there need for so many of them? Ah, but now we’ve shut the women up- given them something to distract themselves with. Meanwhile, 8/8 governors are male. And that’s where all the power lies.

Nineteen

20 years old. I got on a matatu. Now, you know how matatus are. If I get a matatu whose front seat is taken at the stage I get on the next one. I’d rather lose time than be victim to overloading “wanne wanne kama PK” at the back. The seat at the window is best. Next to the driver, I can feel the engine’s heat and I sweat and it’s uncomfortable. Men don’t like sitting there. I don’t care. Women don’t like sitting there either. He came and said he was getting off as soon as we are out of town. I considered it and let him. Someone who lies to you is someone who is looking you in the face and saying “In my opinion, you are this stupid.” That’s what he thought I was-stupid.

Twenty

Yesterday. My best friend and I got on a bus. I was in a knee length dress. She was in trousers. I offered to sit on the seat next to the driver that I don’t like. She had to take my place though in retrospect. Sometimes men cross your physical space when they see skin, and my knees were skin.


These are all true stories. Things I’ve been through myself or things other women and girls have been through. Oftentimes it’s subtle, what people do to shrink you. Sometimes it’s like they pat you on the head. On face value you’ll think that they are congratulating you, celebrating you. But when you look down you’ll see that they are actually trying to minimize you, contain you, so you can be nothing. Isn’t it sad? To be a nothing who doesn’t realize they are being “nothingised”?

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Of Superhighways

Undugu ni kufaana; sitasimama maovu yakitawala

The other day a matatu conductor forced a woman to get off a matatu because she was too big to squeeze in the back seat, and so had to sit in the potty, reducing the number of people he could fit in the vehicle. His exact words, after looking confused that the matatu, with people in the shimo, was full so soon, were, “Madam, we shuka, we ni mnono sana.”

If we who use Thika Superhighway were to form a congregation that meets every Sunday, the testimonies would be jaw-dropping.

I have just about had it with TSH PSVs. I’ve seen it all. Once, I took a matatu and sat at the front seat next to the driver. He was drinking something from a bottle, and from the smell, it wasn’t fresh juice from Delmonte (because Thika). Many drivers chew miraa in broad daylight, and we all know what the class 6 Science Matters says about miraa chewers. They do not get enough sleep and thus are fatigued. I mean, someone needs to tell these people that the high in superhighway refers to the road and not to the sobriety (or lack of) of its users. Oftentimes, if you do not ask the conductor for your balance, he will not return it. From the number of conductors who have tried to swindle me in this way, I do not believe that it is an “I forgot” affair. Sometimes, if you’re not careful, you get on a matatu, and both the conductor (yes, the legit one in the uniform) and the driver are drunk. And then for some reason, everyone on TSH seems angry.

However, the most annoying thing is how these matatu and bus operators overload the vehicles. First off, I really do not understand why a grownup, without a gun held to his/her head, should get on a matatu that is already full. I mean when you decide to cross the road instead of take a flyover, you are endangering your life mostly. But when you get on a matatu with 14, 15, 18people already, you are taking everyone else to the slaughterhouse with you, without checking with us. That is the other thing by the way. On Thika road PSV drivers, in a bid to avoid feeder roads and save time, stop at spots where the flyovers are far or downright inaccessible. Then there is the fact that conductors lie about the matatu’s destination to get you to board. En route to said destination they force you to get off and “give you money to get on another matatu”. That is in quotes because most of the time the money they return is nowhere near sufficient for getting to your destination. Even when they pay another matatu to get me where I was going, I feel cheated. I feel like somewhere in that transaction someone is pocketing money that should have been mine. Also, being transferred means, you guessed it, the new matatu will be full already!

I think Thika road is something Nairobi, nay Kenya, nay East Africa, should be proud of. However, we are not using it right. Why are drivers and conductors breaking every law there is to break in broad daylight? Why are citizens letting them do it-helping them do it? Why is it that many times a policeman stops an overloaded matatu, “speaks” to the driver and waves it on?

Something needs to be done. Something extreme needs to be done. It’s not right that we are getting used to news of deaths on Thika Road.

As a side note, I wish to congratulate myself for refraining from commenting on the madness that must ail the passengers who listen to migraine-inducing music on their phones (with poor radio reception) on loudspeaker despite the vehicle’s radio being on.