Coming home to Myself

I want to learn, that coming home to Myself, is not the Tusker stage after a Gor match. Or Ambassadeur at the time of the night, when men are drunk enough to deserve your body.

I want to learn that coming home to Myself is not a violent matter.

That it is a cup of Ketepa tea after a million cups of foreign tea. That it is a warm shower right before bed, after a journey from Yala to Nairobi. That it is sweatpants and a t-shirt and no bra and a couch and Tangy Tomato Krackles and a chick flick on Friday night. That it is free Wi-Fi, the keys to a dance studio, loud speakers, and my favorite playlist on Friday after my last class. That it is wheat flour and sugar and milk and lemons and drinking chocolate in the kitchen, and no hurry at all. That it is my room when my roommate goes on a late night date and I wait up. That it is Evernote and MoonReader  all night long. That it is Grey’s Anatomy and the voices in my head all day long. That it is untidy dreadlocks and white earphones and a naughty passage and a long weekend away from work. That it is an empty playground and a broken seesaw on a Sunday evening. That it is a walk through the school grounds, unafraid, and sniffing in Thika’s scent when I close my eyes. That it is Riddims in a matatu, and the impossible stillness within. That it is swinging my legs under my chair, even after grown-ups give me their look. That it is the first time I smile and walk away, instead of defend myself, when they say I did it. That it is window shopping along Moi Avenue, and seeing my reflection in the glass, and smiling privately because dang, I am beautiful. That it is seeing a message from you, and reading the “How are you?”, and calling Bullshit on your mindgame, and folding back into myself. That it is pencil and paper and playing TicTacToe against myself. That it is stepping into a space that once loved me, but then haunted me, and finding that it loves me once more.

I want to learn that coming home to Myself is not a violent matter.

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Because of Truth

You will ask me why I always run.
I will say it is because of Truth.
You,you need me to peel off a part of my skin,
like elastoplast,
before you can paste yourself on my body.
But Truth,
he glues me and him together
like a handy cobbler,
uses the tears he cries when he laughs,
and the dryness of my tongue after I tell my stories.

What it feels like to disappoint a father is like this

How it starts is with the phone calls. You always feel some pressure matching the other side’s “But you are fine” on phone. You feel that disappointment. That ‘you have no right to complain’.

You meet him after eight months, and you realize you are not yet in love with the place you have been. You talk like shit and you sound like it. You sound damaged. You sound like you need a break. You feel guilty that you do not tell him that the land you have been comprises milk and honey. You did not expect it to, and so in a way you are fine that it is not. But he is not. He will ask you things like: “Why would anyone want to leave there for here?” He will stay quiet as you tell him the realities of being there. He will look ahead at the road, as he drives, seem a little too poised on his seat, refuse to face the realities that you have become comfortable with.

One day he will say: “We worked so hard to get this, and now you look at it like it is nothing.”

It will break you. You will run away from yourself and allow the tears to flow, but only in your imagination. He cannot see you sad. You will see why no one else tells of the land-you-have-been’s non-glitter. That accusatory tone, that feeling that he has been holding it back so long, that inability to explain to him that although you don’t speak of rainbows and candy, and although your life is not easy, that you are trying to fight your battles. Instead you come up with a weak: “I did not say that I think it is nothing.”

You live with that burden, that you have glass house problems, that a million people would die for the opportunity to be you, that you really have no right to complain.

You see it in his tantrums- his and his wife’s. You know those tantrums that are thrown out of love. You see it in the way they complain about your jeans, and about your tone, and about your time-keeping. You can tell they are honestly reacting to something else, and you kind of wish they would just throw that big tantrum—tell you what you already know—that you are unappreciative, that you are lazy, that you are a disappointment.

Wonder what that woman who gave you the opportunity to be where you are thought when she learnt of your unhappiness. She was probably disappointed in you too.

How it ends is like this: you run away. You cocoon. You give them that break they need from the disappointment that you are. You realize you owe the man who has been with you despite the sadness, despite the non-excitement, despite the not-totally-understanding-you, despite the sometimes assuming like everyone else that your life is perfect, you know you owe him, if nothing else, your sanity. You wait. If you have disappointed the man who has rooted for you all your life, continues to break his back for you, all you need to do is wait a little before you disappoint the one who has rooted for you a significant number of months. 

What it feels like to disappoint a father is like this: you write, and for once, writing does not make it better.

What we used to love

Girl, put your records on, tell me your favourite song
You go ahead, let your hair down
Sapphire and faded jeans, I hope you get your dreams,
Just go ahead, let your hair down.-Corinne Bailey 

At night, after the day’s ups and downs at the Music Festivals in Mombasa, we washed off the hints of eye shadow and lip-gloss we had applied against school rules. We slid out of our favorite school skirts, placed them under our mattresses to straighten them and have them ready for the next day. We eased into our pajamas. The intricate hairstyles we had spent forever making came undone. By day, we put in crazy efforts into attracting small talk from the students in the boys’ schools. By night, we put away our masks, and we met five older men who, like our fathers and uncles, listened to us when we spoke, and were not preoccupied by the fantasy of bumping their street credit by getting our phone numbers.

As we set out for the school auditorium to meet them, I was aware that a trip to Mombasa was cliché. When we were young, every time we were told to write an essay about “safari ambayo sitasahau”, the journey I will never forget, almost everyone in class would write about Mombasa. You go to Mombasa for the madafu (coconut milk), or for the sunshine, or for the Indian Ocean, or for the elegant houses expatriates have built, but never for surprise.

With this in mind, we walked on the wet sand through the warm humid air and the darkness, further and further away from the lively jam session the students of Waa girls’ High School were holding at the courtyard, and into the brick building. We found the men seated. They were lost in performing old-school music (or, as the Swahili term puts it, zilizopendwa, what-we-used-to-love kind of music). But one by one, they slid out of the trance and, one by one, they became aware of us.

They must have had common Kikuyu names- like Manene and Mbugua and Njuguna and Mwangi and Maina- but I do not remember. They knew *Shiru and *Liz already who had met them the previous night. I took a seat next to Manene. Nearly everything that came out of his mouth was funny, but he had a shy smile that made him look like the models magazines use to depict fathers. As he began to tease and say I seemed scared of him, one of them started humming another song, and, like magic, the attention shifted and they all joined in, playing the keyboard, kayamba, guitar and drum.

I watched and I allowed myself to romanticize the moment. I noticed the light at the corner of the auditorium, which served mostly to cast shadows, hit their faces at the perfect angle. I thought the cracked cement floor and the old benches we sat on, and the fact that the president’s picture was hung on the wall was perfect setting for their music and their you-know-when-we-were-young kind of stories.

I wondered what their lives were like. They were music teachers at Gathirimu Girls’ High School. Well, not really- they were teachers who loved music. I heard their students sing. It was true. They had not been kidding when they said their students’ voices were angelic.

“Back in the day,” the plump man started, like ‘back in the day’ was one word, not four. “Girls were forbidden from speaking to boys,” Each time he finished his sentence, he laughed that laughter that first sounds like a bout of coughing.

“If you approach a girl, she goes, “Ma-ne-ne ti-ga!” in staccato. It means stop, Manene.”

I shifted in my seat. Our own uncles would not be so candid about their experiences, let alone those where girls were involved. But they told jokes the way fathers tell jokes. The joke did not belong to anyone. It was story telling and everyone had their own contributions: how it was sacrilege to wear old clothes on Christmas day, how anyone in your parents’ generation was your parent, and was allowed to beat you if you erred and how there was a woman who always sat next to the choir at church, sang louder than them, and ruined the whole service.

That was how the night went on. They sang, and they paused. They broke into song the way they broke into laughter. They held nothing back. They did not care for audience. Like laughter, music just came to them.

“Why do you shower everyday? That is a waste of clothes. When we were young we showered on Wednesdays!” Manene added.

“And on Sundays when we were going to church,” the plump one chimed in.

I wondered what their childhoods had been like, as I laughed the thousandth laugh that night. I grew weary, and so did the night. But like this night, I stayed on, wishing that this stillness would last forever, aware that the next morning, I would be up at six, navigating the girls’ dormitory in the chaos, comb, eye shadow and lip-gloss in hand.

The Wolf of Wall Street is actually about morality

Leonardo-Dicaprio-leonardo-dicaprio-19374229-900-902

There is a LIMIT to everything and we believe the Kenyan public deserves better. WOLF OF WALL STREET has been RESTRICTED. The film is NOT for sale, exhibition or distribution in KENYA. Violators shall be PROSECUTED.” I mean there are other things we deserve better – like a better supply of electricity and water but…oh well I guess this will do for now. lol. Take that Hollywood. Kenyans deserve better movies.- Sharon Nyakundi

Three things. One: I watched Wolf of Wall Street. (Just say it: my street cred is better than yours). Two: my government has banned the Wolf of Wall Street. Three: the Wolf of Wall Street is actually about morality.

I watched it on the whitest coldest Christmas Day that I have ever experienced. It is not up for discussion that those temperatures had been sent by my enemies (zilikuwa zimetumwa). I know it in my heart. It didn’t help that I was trying to keep the Kenyan tradition of wearing your nice clothes on Christmas Day. No, I am not too old for that. The metal part of my earrings in contact with my skin lost all its heat, and my ears started to freeze up, and I felt like any time my ears would just fall off and I would put them in my pockets and walk on because I was that numb.

Since the weather was not going to be my source of Christmas cheer, I made my way to the cinema and hurriedly paid my 8 bucks (yes, I say bucks now, don’t judge) and entered the auditorium, getting refuge from the cold.

The Wolf of Wall Street is graphic. Granted, I was raised Catholic and my definition of graphic is pretty extreme but even for the most liberal people that movie is at least slightly graphic. Someone made a four-and-a-half-minute video of the 509 times the word fuck is repeated. There are scenes there that made me blush because there were old people, like over-sixty-years-kind-of-old, in the seats behind me. But when I heard them laughing I relaxed and kept watching.

But language and unsettling jokes are the least of what is disconcerting to someone conservative about the Wolf of Wall Street. The issue is the themes. As the advertisement so clearly puts it: sex, drugs and money. It’s like someone was trying to make a highbred headache for Nairobi parents from the three things that they most fear will ruin their children.

Small exercise: If you watch the Wolf of Wall Street, I would like for you to try to answer this question honestly: Would you want to be him?

It is Leonardo Dicaprio (THE).

He is bathing in money and power and all the things that these have to offer. Plus, he is the kind of intelligent that is charming.

His wife is breathtakingly beautiful.

I am confident enough to ask you: Would you want to be him?

It hit me on my way back to my room after watching that movie. The Wolf of Wall Street actually brings out more than anything the shallowness of overindulgence. In its own twisted way the bizarreness of Leonardo’s life shows us that contentment is from the inside out.Banning the movie does not change the fact that these are real issues in our society. (I mean it is based on a true story). Bereft of the cliche plots of killing the villain, or happily ever after, or paralysis, this movie succeeds in tricking you into thinking  of it as shallow, while secretly imparting on you certain notions towards… you guessed it… sex, drugs and money.

We all try to find things that make us happy. I tried to watch a movie to cheer me up on Christmas Day. Leonardo tried to own all the money in the world. Both of us at the end of the day remained the people that we were before we sought fulfillment from other things.

*****************************

Mejja’s song: “Kweli jana kuliendaje” – someone told me in 2007 that it was a campaign against irresponsible drinking. It blew my mind. But when I listened to it, I realized it was. At the end he says, “pombe ataacha kesho.” Apart from addiction, the song points out negative effect after negative effect of irresponsible drinking, so much so that it is in actual sense a ‘deglorificiation’ of alcohol. It snuck up on you—didn’t it? I guess that was his point— imagine what would have happened if Esther Wahome had written a song aimed at doing the same thing.

You would not watch the Wolf of Wall Street if it was a documentary about money not buying happiness.

Credit:

Image-wikipedia

Follow your gut

Mary’s got the same size hands 
As Marilyn Monroe
She put her fingers in the imprints
At Manns Chinese Theater Show
She coulda been a movie star
Never got the chance to go that far
Her life was stole 
Now we’ll never know

Apparently, it is  a good idea to remind your brain after a holiday that daytime is for being awake, and night-time for sleeping. I thought that instinct, especially a woman’s, would be sufficient. I was wrong.

How much should you trust your gut?

As the year is still young, I am (and am sure you  are too) in the middle of making decisions upon decisions. I am being faced with academic decisions, career decisions (not really, I remain unemployed because someone spread a malicious rumor that education is a better way to spend your youth than being out making money, it’s all a conspiracy people), and decisions about my social life or my extra-curricular life. I have found many times that how happy I am in the end depends very much on how enthusiastic I am about something.

Yet, enthusiasm is in actual sense an emotion. Everyday we are told to follow our passions yet again everyday we are discouraged from making ’emotional’ decisions. It is a grave contradiction. For instance, let us say I like singing (what, Nairobi’s got talent!). Should I spend my holiday going to singing school or interning for a bank. I love singing. I do not hate banking. I bet you my chances at being the next Sara Mitaru (very high, despite public opinion) that the ‘logical’ thing to do is to intern at a bank.

It is also true, though, that I will probably be happier singing. Even if I have a decent interest in banking, what I am passionate about is singing. Yet singing will do little for my curriculum vitae. As much as I will work just as hard, it will do little to tell the next employment panel I have to face (even if not for a bank job) that they can use that to judge my work ethic, . Almost insinuated is the idea that I had better be a bad banker than a good singer. When it comes down to it though, you can only do your banking job so well when a good portion of your daydreaming allowance (yes, that’s a real thing, and so are imaginary friends) is going to singing instead of dreaming up new financial solutions.

Perhaps, though, we need to trust our gut more.

As much as I often manage to distance myself from the cliche of doing things I do not like, there is a grey area. The best traps are the activities that are ‘not bad’. You know how Ben Kiruthi (the amazing photographer; I know all of you know him) talks about his past job in IT and how he even has an MBA. He did not hate it. He was just not in love with it, and it was the only thing that kept him from following his natural inclination towards photography sooner. It’s the only thing that kept him from taking home the 450,000/= that he does now sooner.

In an article in the Daily Nation, Yvonne Owuor, a Caine prize winner, says the only regret she has in her writing life was starting late.

I understand that there are situations in life where you do not have the luxury of doing what you love, much less abandoning everything for it. I know that we have responsibilities, to our fathers and mothers, and to our sons and daughters. I am, despite my crusades for passion, one of the greatest supporters of the money is in fact a prerequisite for happiness rationale. (And for us money-minded ones, Ben Kiruthi’s story kind of cripples our right to any excuses.)

I am a coward and would really appreciate some company pursuing my revolutionary ways. If only in our little, almost insignificant daily life protests, let us begin to rebel against the great contradiction. Passion before ‘logic’. I can hear the whispers from afar already. Follow your gut. It’s getting louder.

Happy Old Year

I called Adrian earlier today, at midnight. From the obvious enthusiasm in his hello, I could tell that he was uuum… angry ‘only mildly excited to be woken up from his sleep’. This coming from someone who had told me “By midnight he is sure he will have figured out something chill to do.” Something popping. Something rocking. Something befitting of his ‘cool kid’ status. After laughing the appropriate cynical laughter (it was my duty to human kind-you’re welcome), I thought that maybe Adrian, more than most of us, had got it right. Perhaps the New Year is the celebration of an end rather than a beginning. And nothing marks the end of a significant era for a human being like good sleep.

I move to have us stop saying happy New Year and instead start saying happy Old Year.  1st January is less about looking forward and more about looking back. We look back at the mountains on whose peaks we have pitched our flags. We look back at the mountains that we are still training to climb. We look back at the mountains that looked down upon us; sneered at us, let us know we were no matches for them. On New Year’s, we are allowed to pause and take it all in.

Image

 

Mt. Longonot

 

 

As students, and parents, and career men and career women, and brothers and sisters and friends… As human beings, we spend everyday climbing mountains. We work to get into our employers’ good books. We try to fix relationships gone sour. We watch friends and family in pain. Money bosses us around. Exams have us on our knees. We are unsuccessful at learning Beyoncé’s moves (yeah, me neither). Everyday we climb. Everyday we grow more and more out of breath. 

On New Year’s you are allowed to ‘ostrich’. Ostriching is the (very reasonable) action of filtering everything unpleasant from your mind. Close your eyes. Imagine your toes caressing Mombasa’s sandy beaches. Imagine yourself as a child on a swing in a grass-covered backyard screaming with delight (or an adult, no judging). Imagine looking out the window on a moving car and taking in the breeze. Imagine the view of the Nile from a plane.

New year’s is actually a celebration of the old year. We are not happy because we are looking forward to a new year. We are happy because we are silently proud of the heights we scaled the previous year. We are proud of the scars we got and the wrong turns we made on our way up. We are proud we got somewhere, even if that somewhere was not where we had hoped to reach. We look back because we need it. We look back because it is the only way we can build up confidence, if but little, to take on the New Year.

 And when Adrian, a light drinker, tries to convince you in the morning that he had passed out drunk, at midnight, an hour after you had talked to him when he was sober as a judge, say you believe him. Say you believe him because New Year’s is for catching your breath.

Truth is, you know and I know that today is the first of three hundred and sixty five days worth of mountains we are setting out to climb. And we would rather look back at the ones we succeeded at climbing- if only barely- and celebrate that we must be doing one or two things right.

Bravo, dear readers, and happy old year!

Credit

Image-http://sleepout.com/nomad/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/peak.jpg

To Adrian, who is always so kind about allowing me to tell his stories