Tag Archives: family

Isn’t she radiant!

I don’t love this world at all but there are aspects of it that just sing melodies of love and light. Pictures on the walls of an unsettling monotony with smiling faces that become the very stars from which I source my comfort. Vika, my beautiful friend has been through the a lot this year and yet she still radiates a hope and greatness many of us will never own. She is still such a source of comfort even in her wear. I am so proud of her independence and all that she has accomplished thus far on this earth. Here’s to the love, friendship and support we share— the happiest of birthday’s to my gorgeous one!

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“I hate my hair.” She said.

My beautiful niece, you are already the rainbow’s source of light. You are certainly the bloody battle. You don’t like your hair and that worries me. It worries me that already at six years tender, you are so conscious of a standard of beauty that I fear was never meant to favor you. A standard you will find accommodates very few people of our color.

When I was younger, your grandmother had a rule that I could not get my hair chemically relaxed until I was at least twelve/thirteen, so until then it was in its natural state. Coarse, tangled and wildly disobedient. I found comfort in braids, much the same as you do now, but my mother also had a rule that we had to occasionally let our hair breathe. This meant after a month of three-strand braids or twists, I would have at least a week’s cooling-off period in which she would do protective styles at night before I went to sleep, and leave me to decide what I wanted to do with it during the day. I loathed the combing sessions. I remember wincing and squirming in my seat. Letting out the occasional Ouch mommy! followed by my fingers rubbing fiercely against my scalp; a look of frustration coming over me as I began to regret living. It felt like torture, and it was only after many, many years that I realized how tormented my mom must have felt as well. She had no choice but to learn how to braid hair and do cornrows because going to hair salons to your mom, your auntie Nyiha and me, was like marathon running to fish- it just wasn’t meant to be. So I can only imagine what it took for your cucu (grandmother) to psych herself up for the intense and arduous task of doing her children’s hair. A mountain of resistance exhausting every ounce of patience she had on reserve. But you know what, she did. And each Ouch mommy! that escaped my mouth was met with a sorry baby and a little pause, and somehow we got through it.

When I was in the sixth grade I moved to a new school. I did not know anyone yet and during one of my very first break times, I remember dragging my feet and trying to waste what time I could in the classroom so I would not have to sit alone outside. My hair happened to be breathing, so that day I’d decided to go to school with my hair in a ponytail. Naturally, it did not lay flat and smooth like the Caucasian girls’ hair in my class, spilling effortlessly over their shoulders and down their backs. It was spongy and the resisting coils fought for height. The puffy tufts shot through the other side of the hair tie, sticking up in defiance. As I stood in the classroom, fishing through my bag for my snacks, I noticed two white boys standing a few desks down, studying my features.

“Look at her hair. What’s wrong with it?” Boy A spoke with such disgust.

“It looks so ugly.” Boy B opined.

“Mmm, she’s not pretty.” Boy A concurred.

I was devastated. I knew then that lonely would have been better than the alternative I’d unwittingly chosen. In that moment I lamented my ethnicity, my culture and my difference. I took their words to be definition of my appeal as a young girl. I was ugly, my hair- abominable. That was that! I decided from that point forward, never again would I let them see me with my hair out. Braids City, population: Me.

Your mother told me a couple months ago that you cried and begged to stay home from school because your hair was undone. You did not even want to get out of the car at the grocery store because you feared the harsh, anticipated words of strangers offended by your afro. As you know now, I know just what that feels like. Many other black girls and women do too. But, my baby, it is not yours to own that another being should pass judgment on your value in the world, substantiated by archaic dogma. You stem from a line of people who were denigrated and demoralised so severely for our features, it has taken decades if not centuries to learn how to appreciate our own reflections. That is why I say you are the bloody battle. Because wars were fought for you, sweet child. Men and women shed blood so you could celebrate who you are without regard for someone else’s subjective opinion. So you could walk proudly into any grocery store, or sit in your classroom confident that you own the standard of beauty by which you choose to live. That the criteria are set by you and for you to celebrate YOU!

You remark on the growth of my dreadlocks every time you see them: “Auntie Gendo, they’ve grown. They’re growing!”

I laugh because I’m excited that you’re excited to see something different that our texture of hair is capable of. You see, baby, it took me standing in front of the mirror, straightener in hand, watching strands of my relaxed hair fall out with each stroke to realize I was honoring the wrong person. I was trying to emulate someone who would never be a representative of my heritage, my community or my struggle. So I cut my hair. I started over and I blocked out any person who dared tell me I was not in my element. But I still hated the combing and protective styling. So I decided to let my hair do what it had been trying to do since I was a kid- I let it lock. I embraced the coarseness, the coils and the beauty of its rebellion.

Zela, love of my life, perhaps it will help you someday to see your hair the way I see mine. It is multilayered not one-dimensional. Your hair is not just an accessory for your face; it is the story of your people. A living narrative that you should wear with pride because it is written in the blood of those you owe your dreams. Those people who were locked up for believing you deserve civil rights. The ones who chose your life over their own. Those people who I’m certain- if they could be resurrected- would say it was worth it. We cannot afford to hate a part of ourselves that is so indicative of a resilience more powerful than bullets and laws.

Sometimes I genuinely wish I could clone you for a day if only to give you the chance to see how incredible you are. So you could study your features and fall in love with the versatility of your hair. I hope that when you watch this video in your later years and read this post, you save yourself a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Our conversations will change as you get older. But one thing will always be consistent:

That I love you more than you will ever be able to handle,

Auntie Gendo.

 

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Breakup Blues

 

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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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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“I don’t like you because you’re black.” He said to my niece.

Yesterday was the day I have been dreading since my niece’s birth. The day she became the target of overt racial discrimination for the first time. Our vivacious, sweet and innocent babe- only 5-years-old, attended a birthday party, where the white birthday boy said:

“I don’t like you because you’re black.”

My sister (her mother) pulled her aside and asked her to repeat what the little boy said.

“He wants to be my friend?” My niece responded confused, proceeding to play with her other friends from day care.

My sister and niece were the only two people of colour present at the party. Friends of the parents of the birthday boy laughed the statement off, trying to make light of the situation, while the mother employed damage control devices like trying to divert my sister’s attention to the food and drinks. The father of the boy did not say anything, choosing to avoid my sister and my niece for the rest of the day. Noticing my niece did not seem to have understood what had actually happened, my sister decided not to leave the birthday party, as she did not want to have to explain to my niece what had been said to her, and why she could not play with the rest of her actual friends for the rest of the afternoon. Why they had been invited to a party at all by racists is well and truly beyond all of us.

I have experienced racism countless times in Australia, having lived on both the east and west coast. It is something I have accepted will always be part of human existence. As long as history cannot be altered, there will always be those who substantiate the transgressions of the wicked and still preach human rights and civility with blood dripping from their hands. All while simultaneously condemning the ostensible weaknesses of oppressed marginalized groups denied the right to repercussions of slavery, colonization, apartheid, genocide or segregation. Even still, I have maintained that neither white, nor black or anything in between, are inherently good or evil. We choose who we become. Sometimes we are a product of experience, or live our lives around fears or preconceived notions. We hate what has hurt us and we love only that which gives us a dose of euphoria. This is more apparent as we grow and form our own opinions or subscribe to other peoples.

However, ultimately, when we are adults, we make conscious decisions to live our lives in a manner that is indicative of our beliefs and values. We are expected in the eyes of the law to be accountable for our actions and words, because we are old enough and presumably wise enough to discern what is right from what is wrong. Children do not have the luxury of accountability. They repeat what they hear from those who influence them most. What tragedy is this that a child has to learn hate from one they love? Is it not children that have the capacity to love without caution? Is it not through the eyes of a child that one sees angels at the sight of ogres? They will hold the hand of a beast and not know the danger of its jaws, only the warmth of its fur.

“Kisses and Cuddles” by Kagendo Limiri (My sister and my niece)

So my gorgeous, baby niece:

I am so sorry, that all the knowledge I have of race relations, all the rants I have written on the subject, all the times I have cried over a valuation of the black community in our societies eyes, could not render you exempt from such an abhorrent incident. You will have many more, baby, and sadly none of us will be able to shield you from all of them. But know this, I promise to educate you on your constitutional rights, your equal worth as a human being, and remind you that your skin is only ever beautiful. I will do my best to teach you how to love diversity, and celebrate difference, because it makes the world exciting and gives you a bigger canvas to paint on. When your hair is tangled and knotted and you lament the pain and hassle of taming it, I will tell you of the many black women that have struggled with the same problems and much worse, yet still they rise. You will be a black woman in an Australian society that will likely place you on the lowest rung of the ladder, but you are born of a resilient people and your steps upward will not be easy… but they will be- I promise.

Baby, I could never love a world that refuses to learn what it is to love you; to hear the sincerity of your laugh; to know the innocence of your curiosity; to celebrate the splendour of your skin. You are exactly what God intended, and no man with organs that work as yours do, mortal as you are, will ever determine the weight of your worth. Shine, little lady. You are the star we hope will live higher than the skies, the winged beacon we pray a brighter future.

I love you and your mother and I will absolutely, never, ever stop.

Auntie Gendo

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