Tag Archives: Africa

About A Married Man

“I want to ask you a question.” I smiled up at him.

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“Okay.” He smiled back.

“You have to promise to answer the question honestly.”

“Okay.”

“Are you married?”

“Yes.”

My smile faded.

He remained seemingly unaffected. “So now what?”

“What do you mean?” I struggled.

“Well you asked me that question and I answered it. What now? There must have been a reason you asked. Why did you ask?”

“I feel like you’ve been flirting with me.”

“I have been flirting with you.”

“That’s not okay, you’re married—”

“I know it’s wrong but I want to flirt with you, I’m choosing to do it.”

I was visibly disappointed.

“I still want to read your stories.”

I walked away.

I hadn’t even noticed him but he did everything right. He spoke to me just enough that I’d know he was there but not so much that he seemed overeager. He waited a few days to introduce himself and ask me about my name—its meaning and origin. He waited a few more days to ask me out and didn’t appear discouraged when I said I wanted to get to know him a little better before meeting him outside the gym. He disclosed a little information at a time about his interests and accomplishments to combat my apprehension. He read one of my short stories and actually understood it. He also gave me his work email address. He did not press me for my phone number even after we’d exchanged several emails. He suggested activities that I could explore but didn’t angle for an invitation to any of them. It was all compliments, eye contact, watching and connecting. I didn’t want him to say yes, but I wouldn’t have asked if I thought the answer was no. To my surprise, it did hurt me. Sharing a story for so many who write—it’s intimate. It’s like taking everything off so the voice of every stretch mark and curve can speak unencumbered by the penances of indecency.

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I know a few prolific cheaters and in some way they’ve all informed my view of sex. When I was going through puberty it was biology and a means to procreate. A definition bereft of colour. Now, I picture it like messy, greasy paint spilling over the lines or poorly managing to stay within them. It doesn’t really start anywhere specific, it just isn’t until it is. I’m still abstinent and I have to admit that I never really think about sex in the context of the other. In my mind it’s always about me, about something I want to feel. I want the pleasure that cannot hurt me. On most days knowing this is enough to keep me sound but when I’m self destructive, I realise how dangerously impressionable I am. So I hide or I demean me to save someone else the trouble. Or maybe because I’m the evil I know.

It has been suggested, “…women’s bodies are sites of patriarchal power and are spaces where men are at their most oppressive, and women are most oppressed”. I believe this to be true in the case of reproductive health where women are often denied agency over their own bodies. However, I cannot escape its applicability in the context of this post. Archaic express and implied policies and practices cite and impress upon women a responsibility to supply pleasure even if it is to their detriment. For instance, several countries did not and some still do not recognize marital rape as a crime. Don’t even get me started on female genital mutilation; they were worried about a woman straying and responded by absconding with her satisfaction. I have a very distant relative that was brutalized beyond recognition and murdered this year by a physically abusive man she left upon discovering he had multiple wives. Seeing him one last time cost her her life. She couldn’t live anymore because he couldn’t live knowing she breathed and it wasn’t for him. That’s the world we live in now. She says no and he kills her.

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I found his wife on Instagram, it’s what prompted me to ask. She doesn’t post any pictures of him or them and I wonder if this is more about him than her. She seems better than decent and I think she might love Jesus. I love Jesus. She’s a white foreigner and there’s also a child. It scares me that our ever-evolving patriarchy makes it increasingly difficult for women to not hurt other women. I don’t have a covenant with her. He does. I don’t owe her anything. He does. Yet he waited for me to ask. I had to pay attention or I’d have missed it. I could have been the other woman, the one he calls when his daughter is asleep and his wife is rummaging through the fridge for a late night snack to accompany the movie she’ll fall asleep to in his arms. I could have been the one he writes love letters to to feel young again. I could have been the one that causes him to shuffle uncomfortably at the dining table every time a notification sounds on his phone. Or maybe the reason it’s on silent half the time. But my mother didn’t raise that woman. So my conscience couldn’t rest with uncertainty. I asked and now I know. Now I am bound by a duty of care to a woman I have made no promises to before God because I have a married best friend, because I want my sisters’ to have good marriages and because I want my person to be mine.

I think I’m more vulnerable with black men. I think I always have been and that too scares me. I’m unmistakably attracted to them, I have a desire to learn how to love them right and when I picture giving myself to someone, they’re black hands that touch me and black lips that taste me—he doesn’t need to be naturalized, he’s at home in me and dying for ourselves is dying for each other.

There’s this meme in circulation that reads, “When you love another Black person, you have to love each other through 500 years of broken promises, pain, and oppression. When we say Black love, it’s not just about some Black people being in love; it’s the most revolutionary thing you can do”. Imagine that. The resilience of our community, the struggle that we are born into and sustained by—imagine the euphoria of a love that insists on its time. Why wouldn’t I want it? More importantly, why wouldn’t I want it with a black man that wants it with just me? As a father, you could be the man your daughter hopes to marry or the familiar sadness she acquiesces to. So I ask this man, don’t you want her to be joyful and confident? Doesn’t she deserve laughter and genuine, constant, irrevocable love? If so, how will she fare when you tell her her mother was not worthy by entertaining another woman?

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I don’t hate him for being married to someone who isn’t black. I despise that he expected me to be okay with settling for the parts of him that he feels he doesn’t owe her. Whatever bits of his person he’s reclaiming over a decade later to carelessly share with someone who will help him recognise himself. My coarse hair and his, my scars and his blemishes, the blood and bone that has fed and shaped us—death buried in the ground, mouth to root inflating blades of grass and trees with air saved from the days of life. Our shadows have long been allies…then he bid on the sun. He sought to own the light we rely on. Would he kill me? Will he kill me?

I love being a black woman. I love being a woman! I love my skin, I love my mind and my body. So hear me when I say with or without a black man, I am black love.

Because I choose it.

Because one day, it’ll choose me.

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I watched ‘Rafiki’, Kenya’s (previously) banned Lesbian Film

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Firstly, I LOVED Rafiki. It is a beautiful narrative where every character is someone we all know, or have been at a time in our lives—maybe still are at present. Gossips, self-appointed moral justices, heterosexual perverts, desperados, hypocrites, adulterers, fornicators, individuals. We’re all in there really. It follows the tragic love story of Kena and Ziki, two Kenyan girls whose fathers are competing candidates for political office. During the opening credits, members of the audience hollered and cheered at the screen at what I assumed were recognizable faces, possibly friends. I didn’t mind it. I thought it remarkable that for once I found myself in a theatre where it was plausible that the actresses/actors on screen could have been sisters, husbands or neighbours to any one person in the room. But I do feel it should have stopped there.

Though the love story contained many components of most love stories, it was obvious we were watching something different. Not because Kena and Ziki were particularly extraordinary in any way, but more so because members of the crowd made it a point to vocalise the two women’s attraction. I was silently disheartened by the eruption of murmurs occasioned by Kena and Ziki’s intimate moments; an intense study of each other’s faces or the intoxication of their physical endearment. What should have been a privilege to witness was so easily interrupted by what I assumed was discomfort, or perhaps an audible study of the unusual. In truth, I found the clapping that met the end of the movie perplexing. I could not understand how so many members of the audience who had made such an effort to remind us of their presence, responded with an act of praise. Where had the respect been—the appreciation for moments that belonged to Ziki’s quiet stare or Kena’s conflicted desire? I feel strongly that we owed them our silence and attention, not our commentary. Given the delicate nature of what is many peoples reality in countries where being homosexual can get you killed, for an hour and 23 minutes we owed them the floor.

There is this horrible scene in the movie where the two women are mercilessly beaten by a mob of bigots upon being discovered kissing in their safe-place, having been followed by the nosy gossip and her daughter who instigate the attack. The next scene has them sitting on separate ends of a bench in a police station, visibly bruised and bleeding. Two police officers watching them jokingly ask which one of the two women plays the role of the man in their relationship. When their parents arrive to pick them up, Ziki’s father slaps her across the face and scolds Kena, before ordering his daughter to get into the car. I cried. I don’t think I’ve cried in a movie house since I watched The Lion King back when I was still in single digits. I found myself wiping runaway tears from my cheeks, though I managed to hold back most of them.

It was the rejection these young women faced that resonated with me most. They no longer qualified for the comforts of human decency, all because of a personal choice. Attitudes in this country have a way of making you feel like you have to live on the brink of apology. I’m not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community but I no greater reflect what prescribed human symptoms are championed in this land, and I certainly could not rely on a vocal majority to countenance my personal Unkenyan declarations and preferences. Kenya’s patriarchal standard has written implied laws for love and care, the same way it writes scripts for women to read from. It’s no wonder why our order of the day is not building a country we can all be proud of—it’s condemning a different flavour of love and humiliating human beings for being human beings. Is love not as per the one who does the loving, and made beautiful by the one who is looking to be loved in that exact way? Why can’t it be the choice we are all at liberty to make without fear of condemnation or prosecution?

I don’t know why there was so much talking during that movie but it reminded me of a quote from Ernest Hemingway:

“The beast at the bullfight is the crowd.”

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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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Diaspora Diaries: How do we justify burning a child alive?

Repost from: Chathe and Ebra 

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Fire by Matty Ring

 

 

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Are you my village husband and which way to the Biafran War please?

About the black community’s seemingly non-existent reading culture destined to kill us. (Seriously though, it’s a problem!)

I often wonder if the mountains dream of being hills and if raindrops fear the boorish sea. If I were to live the narrative of that which is said to represent me, I could not operate without reference. My hair on its own could not abide an angry breeze and my skin would be a little lighter and a little darker all at once. My speech would be interrupted by foreign concept- language and pronunciation I would dread play subject to test. I would hurt for reasons unbeknownst to me, and weep over trials that wrongfully add to the credit of my soul; ignoring the true toxicity in which my ambition for so long has been submerged. I would fall in love with a man in a village- our village. I would fall in love with a recalcitrant political refugee escaping detention. I would write privilege with love and the characters that bury themselves in my heart would force a ballad of appreciation to remind me of my blessings and limited acceptance. I would have to beg an application of inanimate objects to present a body employed by standard. I would need to know of a hardship of the mind that would make me heroic in thought beyond my education, and still humble and happy. I would belong to a classified people. They would hear themselves in me because I would avoid all intolerable displays of my individuality petitioning silence. I would buy my happiness from heroes of a different race or class; cheap spoils for the lesser being. My woes would be chosen for me and mental illness would only ever make me seem crazy, not wise and knowledgeable of the sins of our world. I would be someone I have never known enough to write. I would be someone I have never been able to resonate with.

This week I got my first full manuscript submission response. I stared at the alert on my computer, panicking in excitement and wishing there was another version of me that could deliver the news. I picked at my fingernails, busying myself with light work to steady my breaths. Eight weeks I have waited for what I can now confirm is a kind rejection from what I can only assume is a lovely individual entitled to her own tastes and values. This is surely the pain of writing; that one is prohibited from human emotion because there is simply no one to blame. I cannot hate myself for not fitting the mold and simultaneously, I cannot hate her for not seeing beauty in the cracks. We are two individuals; different worlds and different loves. We are women of different worth in this world and on this occasion our differences did not make us better, just different.

While many aspiring and established writers have known/will know the inexorable pain of a form rejection, a critique or a blatant dismissal of acknowledgment, the hope is that a waiting crowd will call foul and force a conversation that has not already been started. A conversation only that underrepresented voice can start. You see, it is not a rejection of my words that threatens my spirit; it is the scale that weighs its relevance, the absence of a strong enough African/Black reading culture to provoke the necessity for my presence in literature.

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I hated reading when I was growing up. I couldn’t resonate with the characters in the books, furthermore, my primary and high school teachers took the fun out of it by insisting an author’s words only had one meaning, and to interpret against the grain was to disrespect the purpose of language. So I grew up believing that one only read novels to pay homage to language, and not appreciate the value of a human being’s organized account of chaos. I numbed my senses to scripted records of society because these writers who took time to lecture me, did not want me to resonate with them, only offer my respect for their toil.

“I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” -Toni Morrison

As much as I hated reading, however, I loved to write. Poetry drenched in spelling errors on primed recycled paper, prose about suicide and dying and speeches addressed to no one. One day as I transcribed my genius onto my mother’s Power Macintosh in my father’s study, I leaned over and picked up a book off his desk. Pages of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom brought my heart to life and the euphoria of Madiba’s soul speaking to mine unapologetically pilfered my attention. To this day, this feeling has only ever been replicated once by Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father. So beautifully as these men wrote their stories, so magnificently did they share their worth. I fell in love with their anger, their frustration, their identity crises and their durability. Then came James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, Virginia Woolf and Octavia Butler, Oscar Wilde and George Orwell. I fell in love with reading because finally I could hear the voices of the writers and we spoke with such careless feeling; they were entitled to their version of reality and I was entitled to my interpretation of their chronicles. But in all their stories, for all the struggle that had birthed their greatness they did not represent me. They did not package my voice for the masses.

“But you do discover that you are a writer and then you haven’t got any choice.” -James Baldwin

So I write because the bridge between this world and me is so insecure that only the sound of weeping rail dare attempt prevention of my fall, if only my steps should continue beyond shallow warning. I pray constantly and I query desperately, that I may not waste my mind and my passion. Stories where he yells and she cries and they break each other because he is just a man and she is only his accidental daughter. Stories where she is middle class, educated and still scaling the lowest rung of the ladder because this world has presented no allies to ensure her happy ending. Metaphoric shackles and her hair a metaphor still. Stories of reckless ambition challenged by a world where citizenship is the caped villain that hinders the protagonist’s progression. She has dreadlocks, dark skin and rotates her collection of skinny jeans. She doesn’t have Sarah Baartman’s large breasts, a West African Accent, or a loincloth, though she is born of Africa and so bound by its incumbent iniquities. What a tragedy it is that she and many others may never be acknowledged, because our community has neglected to add weight to our worth and support true representations of our demographics and our diverse obstacles. Why must we hurt ourselves by refusing a variety of narratives in favour of one that will constantly fail to represent all?

Alas, it would appear those of us who are different, who don’t fit the mold are writing our records for an empty room. Perhaps this is why I often wonder if the mountains dream of being hills and if raindrops fear the boorish sea.

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