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International Women’s Day

“The women of my grandmother’s generation in my home town trained their daughters for womanhood. They taught them to give respect and to demand respect. They taught their daughters how to churn butter; how to use elbow grease. They taught their daughters to respect the strength of their bodies, to lift boulders and how to kill a hog; what to do for colic, how to break a fever and how to make a poultice, patchwork quilts, plait hair and how to hum and sing. They taught their daughters to take care, to take charge and to take responsibility. They would not tolerate a “lazy heifer” or a “gal with her head in the clouds.” Their daughters had to learn how to get their lessons, how to survive, how to be strong. The women of my grandmother’s generation were the glue that held family and the community together. They were the backbone of the church. And of the school. They regarded outside institutions with dislike and distrust. They were determined that their children should survive and they were committed to a better future.

I think about my sisters in the movement. I remember the days when, draped in African garb, we rejected our foremothers and ourselves as castrators. We did penance for robbing the brother of his manhood, as if we were the oppressor. I remember the days of the Panther Party when we were “moderately liberated.” When we were allowed to wear pants and expected to pick up the gun. The days when we gave doe-eyed looks to our leaders. The days when we worked like dogs and struggled desperately for the respect which they struggled desperately not to give us. I remember the black history classes that did mention women and the posters of our “leaders” where women were conspicuously absent We visited our sisters who bore the complete responsibility of the children while the Brotha was doing his thing. Or had moved on to bigger and better things.” – Assata Shakur

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“DSC_5153” by Trishhhh 

I don’t believe that men will liberate women from patriarchal institution any more than I believe the wealthy will save the poor, or the capitalist will marry the communist. I believe a woman’s best shot at a decent life has at some point rested in the calloused hands of a woman before her. The excerpt above is from a piece of writing by Assata Shakur, a civil rights activist who was a member of the Black Liberation Movement and Black Panther Party in the 1960s. Here she so aptly revisits a narrative known to many a black woman. We have seen our mother’s cook for their communities, singlehandedly raise their children, support their husband’s and neglect themselves in favor of duty. The black woman has known sacrifice, abandonment and struggle. We have been rejected by the world, endured denigration of our aesthetic and abilities- an article in Psychology Today went as far as to declare that black women are objectively less attractive than other races of women. Worse still, several other polls and studies do not vie from this conclusion. This being one of the more trivial examples of how we are viewed in this world. However, there will be no greater adversary we face than ourselves.

When we look more specifically at women in developing countries, we cannot ignore the injustices subjected to those who can ill-afford what should be basic human rights. Sexual and reproductive rights, for instance, have been referred to by some feminist theories as the site at which men are most oppressive and women most oppressed. Our bodies have literally been turned into consumer goods for sale to the highest bidder; be it private healthcare agencies, corporations or marketing firms. It is so ironic that somehow the only people who are demonized for the sale of women’s bodies are women. The way we dress cannot be too provocative though we cannot be too prudent. We cannot express our sexuality or admit to a desire for, or enjoyment of sexual encounters at the risk of being called promiscuous hoes. Perhaps worse still, women are known to endorse the demoralization of other women.

Let’s not forget that Maya Angelou was a prostitute. Billie Holiday was a heroin addict. Leymah Gbowee was an alcoholic. And yet here we have a writer, a singer and a nobel peace prize laureate that we openly and excitedly celebrate for their contributions to literature, music and peace. What have they taught us? That we have no business telling women who they are. Too many have shown up, transgressions in hand and holes in the soles of their feet ready and willing to redefine their narrative against the script written by patriarchs.

We have so much work to do. This world is cursed with indiscretion. In some countries, there is forced sterilisation for HIV positive women and restrictive abortion laws for women confronting unwanted pregnancies. The same work as male counterparts for unequal pay. Underrepresentation of women in governance. Misrepresentation of women in industry. International Women’s Day. A day some of us show appreciation for our mother’s, their mother’s, our siblings, aunties and daughter’s. We acknowledge the women we love who have contributed to our growth as individuals and the one’s this world has elected to remember. But we cannot forget to praise those who are different, who broaden the scope of our travels. Those prostitutes who will write, those alcoholics who will organize and those singers who will drive our anthems of egalitarianism! There are no hoes, no bitches-only flavors of awesome dressed how they please.

“The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” -Dante Alighieri

The celebration of women on this day, at present, seems to be no more than another opportunity to acknowledge that women exist. That we were all expelled from some woman’s womb. That too many of us are still silently acquiescing to our own gender-specific, sexist roles. It is as though we have forgotten that there was a time women were not allowed to vote. Women were not allowed to study. Women were not allowed to work. Men legally had to give their wives permission to undergo tubal ligations. Women could not legally own property. This did not change because men decided women deserved better. It changed because women decided they deserved better.

Tell me, have we stopped deserving better?

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I’m done. I Forfeit.

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Most girls want someone to call daddy; to be the truest reason he continues to find God in her mother’s eyes, to be the fruit born of immeasurable love. He will set the tone for all men in her life. If he is a great man, all other men will fall short of greatness. If his desires control him and result in reprehensible conduct, he becomes the standard of her expectation. If he is absent altogether, she will look for his presence in her own reflection. But the power such a man wields over the vulnerable babe must be earned by his unconditional love. It must be bought in his promise to always protect her; paid for by his toil and commitment to provide for her, until such a time as she can do so independently; granted by his oath to put her before himself and all others, ripping feathers from his own back to strengthen her wings, so she can fly high above the stars. She must become the breath he takes before the beat.

I believe my father’s first love is Africa. He believes that: “East Africa will be a single, viable federation one day”. Days after that, he believes that all fifty four States will finally begin to covet unity and make it the goal. He believes that Kenya can change. That people born of the soil can be free. His soul is bound to the life of the continent; his heart beating in time with hers, his convictions owned almost entirely by his desire to see her soar- to see her win.

I moved to Kenya to ride the wave of my father’s love for this place. I wanted to fall as deeply and as passionately for this part of earth as he has, to better understand his motivations. So I could see as he does. I wanted to find in the soil my own direction and celebrate a path constructed for me by my heritage. I wanted to taste the blood of slaves in the fruit raised from the ground where their bodies lie, and marry the struggle they left me to inherit. I wanted to hear revolution on the streets and record the evolution of black- a new unshakable freedom.

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Something else my father is taken by…jazz. I grew up on soft jazz, African jazz, African house, soul music and R&B. Like my father I fell in love with jazz and even harder for soul. As a teenager he played the trombone and harmonica, so I wanted to play the sax. I wanted to play it to make him proud and to give him something to celebrate in me. Pretty soon though, I learned to play it for myself. I would come home after a day of school, put a jazz CD into the sound system and blast it with the blinds drawn; playing along wherever I could make out the notes by ear. It was how I talked myself off the ledge- how I convinced myself to let another day meet me at the door. Just play, and hear something louder and more palatable than reality.

I thought moving to Kenya would be as easy as listening to jazz. I had already mimicked my father’s taste in music; surely I could mimic his affections. As easily as he persuaded me to learn about Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Dedan Kimathi, so easily could he teach me to love the land I am meant to call home. But Kenya is not like playing the sax. It is not the comfort I come home to at the end of a hard day that anaesthetizes my mind and soul to ease the pain. It is the poison that makes every move hard. I can’t be creative here, I can’t live creativity here. I have found foreign in home- an alien to my father’s love. Richard Wright to Ghana.

It was Jamhuri Day (Kenya’s Independence Day) on the 12th of December. But we are not free and I’m tired of hearing of a potential that not enough people seemingly want to realize. Sadly, I can’t be bought any longer by my father’s beliefs.

This is not my home. I’m not convinced this is where I’m supposed to be if I can’t be the version of me worthy of life.

We all have to know when to walk away.

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Breakup Blues

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My favorite Instagram couple broke up. They were literally #blacklove #couplegoals; cute pictures together on each others profiles; names next to heart emojis in their bios; and endless declarations of love in the comment sections of one another’s posts. It was all perfectly adorable. Well, until it ended. No more pictures. No more I love you, baby’s. No more, never let me go’s. No more you are my forever’s. No more dancing in the dark. No more loving in the light. When I noticed the absence of their affection I felt oddly concerned, like somehow I needed closure too. What happened? Did he cheat? Did she quit? Did she cheat? Did he move? Did they grow apart or stop trying. Are they broken now? Is the damage irreparable? Of course this led me to twitter, where a medley of subliminal messages wrapped in genuine pain found room to nest.

I said forever.
She messed up.
I don’t want to see him with someone else.
I give people way too many chances.

They both seem so hurt, and so tragically in love. I am devastated for them- these strangers I have no business feeling anything for, whose love I seem to have irresponsibly admired.

It made me realize how unwittingly reckless we can be with our hearts. I remember writing subliminal messages two and a half years ago as I second-guessed my decision to end my last relationship. I remember missing our friendship more than anything, and wanting so desperately to cry on his shoulder about our breakup. I remember making a video, writing blog posts and reading self-help books all in effort to heal and let him go. I remember deleting him on Facebook in anticipation of the day his status would change from single to in a relationship. I remember running to 90s R&B breakup tracks, and clutching at my side deceptively as tears welled in my eyes, when really it was my heart that was hurting. We’d been together for years and I fell out of love and I thought I’d be okay. When it came down to it, when the words were said, it suddenly dawned on me that this person was in my system and it didn’t matter how prepared I thought I was, he still rented rooms in my being. I couldn’t see myself marrying him and simultaneously, I didn’t know how to unlove us for the longest time.

Two and a half years on, I don’t miss him, I don’t love him and I want him to be happy. I want him to be loved. I want someone to see him the way I did when we met and I want their narrative to end in promises they intend to keep. Should my favorite Instagram couple not find a way to reconcile, I hope they heal enough to only ever want good things for each other.

Someone asked me a few months ago what type of men I attract, and I said: “I don’t really know”, when I should have said: “all the wrong ones”. The ones that want more than I can give, or the ones that want parts of me I’m not ready to give, or the ones that don’t really want me at all. The ones that still think it’s cool to hurt people’s feelings and keep a count of the number of women they’ve slept with. Anyway, I think love is meant to hurt sometimes. Not so much that it breaks you, just enough that you feel like there’s something to lose. I can’t love right now because I’m not strong enough to overcome the inevitable hurt. The same someone made me realize that a couple months ago and reiterated it again today. So to that someone, at 26, I don’t need to hurt you or play any games. I just want you to be happy. I’m old enough to know that’s all I should really want for you. I’m wise enough to know she might be the one to give it to you.

So I hope you are.

Happy.

Take care.

 

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My Dark Skin

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My skin is like patch work. Different parts of my body are different shades of dark brown. Contrasting colors indicate where my arms have entertained the dancing sun and where my skin has hidden from the light. The different tones are bold symbols of movement, a defined surface area permanently singed in memory of where my feet have travelled. Yet this skin I wear is reviled by so many though it is the color of bare earth. It boasts a heritage rich as the soil, and a resilience coarse as violence. I am obsessed with it. I will always be obsessed with it.

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Still In Love With Him

I’ve been finding it difficult to feel anything for a few years now. I don’t really like to be touched in any way and it feels like an invasion of my personal space when anyone tries to engage with me beyond necessity. I often try to avoid being emotionally aware of other people’s feelings and I find it all to easy to walk away when I feel pressured. I am repelled by crowds and the only place my heart feels settled is on undeveloped land, with fresh air and cleaner skies- no expectations, no conversations, just peace.

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Breathing

Alas on this earth, one cannot live as an island, frolicking among the speechless green and brown furnishings of the earth. So when I do have to engage, I am assisted only by courtesy and whatever vessel in me demands performance of cultural, social and professional duty.

Lately, however, there has been one person I have wanted so desperately to speak with. The image below is of my grandfather’s Pass Book. During the colonial era in Kenya, blacks were required to keep a Pass Book that contained ruled pages titled Movement Permit. These pages would be filled-in stamped and signed by a white issuing officer that would record in detail the permissions, validity, purpose and destination (among other things) of the Pass Book holder that needed to travel to a different part of the country. My Guka (grandfather) was allotted a number, visible in the picture below that was used to identify him. Every time I look at this, I am overtaken by anger and pain. How any man could impose borders on those who are born of the land they seek to roam is well and truly beyond my level of comprehension. Yet, here is proof that such men lived.

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Still, my grandfather, though ill-treated in his own country, found light in life and became a lantern illuminating the paths of many. When I was child I remember the way he used to embrace me when he would visit, and how he would discipline me in playful ways that made me want to be better. I remember how I could never get my small arms to fit around him because of his big stomach and I always thought he must have had so much love to give it was bursting at the seams. I remember how he spoke to me and the effort he made to be patient and listen to what I had to say. I remember how his stubble used to brush against my cheeks when I would jump onto the seat beside him for a cuddle. I remember the scent of his clothes and the loud slurps he would make when he sipped hot tea. I remember the way he would smile when he was proud of something I said or did, and the warmth of his hands when he held mine.

He’s dead. Has been for many years. Out of desperation I went to go look for glimpses of him in my other grandfather’s eyes and was reminded that no one man’s words are a replica of another’s heart. Now I don’t believe in talking to gravestones, but if I could send any letters to heaven:

 

Guka,

It still hurts to know you’re gone. Lately, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I am lost in my own ambition and disgruntled by my failure to accept pragmatism and mediocrity as living. I have no real idea of what it is I want from life anymore and no real connection to the ground on which I stand. How did you find God in the chaos of such a dark period of history? Where did you source the strength to keep going?

If you could come back just for a moment, and hold me up while we walk for a while- I think I could use the company. Thing is, I’m stuck loving you until the rain doesn’t know how to fall anymore. Until the sand is so dry and rough that it cuts the breeze and the bleeding wind wets the thirsty earth.

Gendo

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The Sun’s Retreat

I’ve never been in love with the sun, I’ve always found peace under darker skies. Not because I crave the wake of indiscretion, but because I covet the moon’s quiet embrace. No majestic rays command unsettled existence and yet the glitter of stars guide lovers of night. What greatness is bestowed upon the earth by such gentle light- the glow of a fatigued feature placed beyond the reach of man, pilfering song until the wind is the only whisperer.

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That black man wasn’t “MY” black man, and can we please bring back trouser-length panties?!

I recently started spending time with a black man. He is the first male I’ve liked, kissed or wanted to get to know in two and a half years. Let’s call him “95% Cacao” (God knows I like my chocolate dark and just a smidge processed- I don’t know what that last part means, just go with it). He’s part of the West African Diaspora. It’s important for me to mention that for anyone who doesn’t belong to a Diaspora, and might not understand what it’s like moving away from your country of origin as an infant or young child. Growing up and studying in different countries until you are an adult in your early twenties, you suddenly realize you disinherited your place of origin through exposure to contrastingly different societies and cultures. Identity crisis has managed to eclipse all understanding of what you are. None of your best friends live where you do, none of the people you considered family in your childhood are around, and it’s back to square one; an outsider trying to make sense of life in a seemingly impenetrable existence of opposites and contradictions. So two and half years in, it’s nice to meet someone who can relate to it. The familiarity of his lost accent, the content of his language, our similar desires for a much more progressive Africa, and furthermore our desire to contribute to her development- everything about this man made me feel safe. Most importantly though, I must admit, the fact that he is black gave me a real hope that something good could happen between us.

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You see all of my living heroes are black men. Bryan Stevenson and Barrack Obama. It amazes me to think that from such compromised heritage and struggle, people of color have sourced a resilience that has refused to submit to extinction or mediocrity, and in some cases, unselfishly fought to oppose the level of inequality hindering the development of persons within the black community. As a black woman I am not incapable or incapacitated because of my color, and yet so often in my growth I have encountered people who view it as a handicap, resigning my worth to nothing more than another living, breathing thing. For me it is simpler to rationalise the ignorance of others, but I have always expected the empathy and encouragement of black men, perhaps more so because I was raised by one. I never thought I would be in the position where I would have to say these very words to another black man, but this week I sadly did.

95% Cacao had cancelled longstanding plans we’d made in a text message late the night before. No phone call earlier in the week, day or evening, no adequate explanation, just a crappy can we reschedule cause I wanna do something else tomorrow. A few weeks prior to this, I made him dinner and took it to his apartment (which was a date we planned as well- I’m no Stepford Wife) where we watched a movie and spent some time together, only to not get a phone call or so much as a text the next day to say thank you for dinner and for bringing it over. I mean, I THREW DOWN for that negro in the kitchen… SPICE LIFE MY DUDE, SPICE LIFE!

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At this point, it’s important you know that I’m abstinent. I made it clear the first day we met. I have always made it clear to men I’m interested in because you know what- trousers down, top off there are not too many places to go from there, and no one wants a nasty surprise. My man 95% C told me he  was fine with it, he said:

“I could date a woman who’s abstinent.”

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Now, I’m no innocent-miss-muffet. I’ll play with some damn spiders even when I know there’s risk of poison, and quite frankly times have changed- women’s panties are not trouser-length anymore, you take one item of clothing off and it’s Naked City. I mean, you really gotta be careful out there. I’m not saying I did anything reprehensible, but I’m sure as hell not holier-than-thou. Point is, 95% Cacao said he could handle it and I don’t think he could. I think he wanted from me the thing many other women hadn’t denied him, and when he realized I wasn’t going to break, suddenly I’d gone from a prospect to too easily replaceable. He’s at least two years older, and I was hoping mature and ready for something real, but alas he’s not a man yet. Mid-to-late twenties and I don’t think he knows that sex does not make love. I don’t think he’s learned that many black women, having been judged either by the way we look; our verbal resistance to stereotype; or for the tears we weep over a reckoning with abandonment from the very men we hope to appeal most to, crave substance. Someone who will wait because he sees her worth.

I would be remiss to say, I was not wrong to let him treat me the way he did and still hang on to hope that something good would come of it. I was wrong to cater to him before I’d earned his respect. I was wrong to decide who he is before I’d gotten to know him better. For this I take full responsibility. I got hurt and I feel disrespected- I guess these are the consequences I must embrace. I only wish he was man enough to sincerely apologise too, instead of offering the half-assed response to my saying, in summary, that I wasn’t interested in being a monkey in his circus.

I acknowledge, after some reflection, that I must earn the effort I want a man to make, and so while I am not even a little ready for marriage (I have like a hundred personal prerequisites), I do plan on making sure when I am, I’m worthy too.

As for 95% Cacao, I’m just disappointed that neither one of us seemed to rise to the occasion and earn each other.

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PS: Suffice to say, part of me is still kind of hoping his childhood tree-house is accidentally set on fire by a smoking drunkard passing-by, destroying all of his memories of youth and innocence, causing him to reflect on his bad decision-making and general dickishness. But that’s just a very small part of me, the rest is mostly sad.

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