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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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Feel Good Drag

Instagram: @she_her_and_them

When I don’t workout at night something happens to me. I manage to reduce my entire existence to bad moments and poor remarks. I see the faces of people I wish I’d never met and I notice the tangible and intangible scarring inflicted on my person. I see my demons a little clearer and the color of their eyes isn’t black like my hair but it’s a color I’ve seen before in people I know—in people I love. It’s like an awkward paranoia that arrests me, I suddenly wonder what side the bullet will come from and whether I’ll recognize the scent of my own demise, or if perhaps I will know instead the sound of God’s gavel.

I yelled at someone tonight. He fucked up and I ended up having to monetarily pay for his fuck-up. It didn’t make me feel better though. I didn’t feel more powerful having admonished him while he stood feebly. I felt wicked as I looked into his sorry eyes and still refused to relent before driving off infuriated. Everything and everyone got in the way today, and by the time life and all its mishaps had finished obstructing my path, not enough time remained for me to go workout and not enough strength was left for me to survive it anyway.

It isn’t so much the physical activity I’m addicted to, it’s the feel good drag. The idea that running nowhere at all is still running. Friendship is fleeting, love is a choice and happiness is a myth. Running—running is real. I get to go beyond the prison walls. Moving away from that which is torturous and consuming for an hour or so where the only pain I feel I have chosen to inflict on myself.

I hate this air, this life that is nothing but a series of humans hurting humans to forget what it’s like to be hurt. This projection of wasted feeling staining the walls of regret. The rough road pickled with menacing nails puncturing tires.

I think God is playing a cruel game and I can’t quite seem to find the edge of the board.

One day.

One fine day.

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Hold my candor.

“There can never be another like you
You’re the only one in my eyes
And if you try to leave, I’m gone find you
Running through the back of my mind

I will search high and low, just to find you
Even though should’ve never found you
And I love what you’ve got on me baby
Can’t let you go, won’t let you go

Never try to hurt you or harm you
Well whenever you’re around
I am sometimes a little bit different, to please you
You’re the only one on my mind

I will search high and low, just to find you
Even though should’ve never found you
And I love what you’ve got on me baby
Can’t let you go, won’t let you go”    – Ro James ‘Ga$’

Every once in a while I discover a song that makes me feel present in life. I don’t mean to suggest I’m not aware of my existence in the world, I think I’m just numb to it. I recorded the video below as part of a Snapchat story. I’d gone for my usual late night workout, returned to shower and get ready to sleep. This was one of the songs I’d included on my playlist for the night and it just did it for me. Kept my energy up and broke the monotony of the exercises. Normally working out at night is the perfect lullaby. I feel a rush of endorphins, take big gulps of fresher air and I get to make up stories in my head- alternative realities that are easier to digest than truth. It’s like running away physically without really travelling anywhere at all. Living a life so foreign from that which you are resigned.

This song- it’s the way it made me feel. It was this sudden realization that some people get to present themselves on their terms to the world. They get to record their emotions and package their expression for scrutiny, having resolved that a combination of lyrics and melody are enough because they say so. So even if it’s rejected or ripped apart, it’s still there, it still makes it out onto the surface. It feels good to feel something- that’s the only reason why I’m smiling here. I felt something.

Writing is my whole life. Lately I’ve been lamenting that because it is not as in love with me as I need it to be, and I am trapped in its insecurity. I told this to someone I thought would understand a few months back. I told him I needed to write to live. I told him that the black community is failing itself by not supporting a record of our time with the necessary investment in our own stories, by our own storytellers. He tried to come back with different suggestions all of which did nothing to address the lack of readership and the inadequate representation of the black man and woman in literature. Then he stopped. He was turned off by my words and complaints, and I imagine reduced me to nothing more than, perhaps, an entitled, negative curmudgeon. And soon our conversations turned to silence on one end, and soon I stopped trying all together to redeem myself. Now I wonder why I tried at all. I didn’t lie, the black community has a poor readership. There is gross misrepresentation and underrepresentation of black people in literature. I have every reason to hurt over this. I don’t care how many black women have influenced his reaction to my lamentations, I’m done apologizing to black men for feeling deeply about things that affect our community negatively. These past two weeks in particular I’ve been dealing with the redundancies of chauvinistic, uncreative black men who think they have all the answers, but can’t provide any actual solutions to a very real problem that claims the lives of many. Apparently, my approach in their eyes is wrong, but their approach doesn’t exist altogether. So what then? Silence does not a cure make.

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I think when I hear certain songs, I envy their place in time and their unapologetic candor. I envy that 3 minutes and 20 seconds of song is enough to evoke emotion and answer pleas for euphoria. There is no point to a life that isn’t also poetic deliverance. Life is fucking hard- art is the only depiction worth living in my opinion.

Wisdom is not the free gift with purchase of age, wrinkles are.

(P.S: the iTunes version, which I have, has a better chorus in my opinion)

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President Obama- Thank you.

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A lot of people seem to forget that Martin Luther King Jr died not only an enemy of the State but also largely unsupported by the black middle class, allegedly because of his stance against Lyndon B Johnson’s Vietnam war. A war several black revolutionaries opposed, including Muhammad Ali. Nelson Mandela was also strongly criticized for not doing enough for black South Africans during his presidency. President Obama continues to face criticism from members of the black community for not being more attentive to black needs. People like Cornel West have gone as far as to call him: “a Rockefeller republican in blackface”. When I look at history, something tells me Obama’s legacy’s gonna be just fine. He had the audacity to believe he could do what was once impossible- and boy did he! I pray God gives him the world he has meant to this one.

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Prom Dresses and American Presidential Elections

de·feat

verb

Win a victory over someone in a battle or other contest; overcome or beat.

 

Defeat is tricky. When I was younger, I remember being told things like:

“Quitters never win.”

“When you get knocked down, dust yourself off, get back up and try again.”

“Don’t give up because it’s too hard. Nothing good ever comes easy.”

“Hard work pays off.”

“Focus on the work and the rewards will follow.”

But then I also remember hearing a lot of the following too:

“That’s life.”

“Maybe this wasn’t for you.”

“Life’s a bitch.”

“That’s how the cookie crumbles.”

The contradiction stunned me. I was expected to aspire to and work hard for the things that I wanted, but if hard work proved insufficient I was expected to adopt a less palatable resolve. Reach for the sun, I suppose, with the hope that you might just touch a cloud. The result of this week’s American presidential election brought these words back to the forefront of my mind. Hard work and reward. Inadequacy and resolve.

Few of us live in a world where we set the rules. Often we are born into an existence where our lineage, citizenship, appearance, race, ethnicity, physical capability and/or academic prowess pre-determine our worth and opportunity. Silver spoons for the wealthy, vouchers for the poor and hope for the in-betweeners. We are not expected to succeed if we do not show signs of exceptional ability or can’t afford to subsidize our shortcomings, and so we are expected to ‘only aspire’ to a higher standard without any of the extra help. ‘Do the best you can, don’t give up’, when in fact we have already been written off. This made me wonder, did Hillary Clinton enter a race she was never really in to begin with. After all, she is very well educated, seemingly smart and has a resume boasting experience in the political realm- yet she still lost. She spoke against rhetoric that undoubtedly demoralized women; demeaned ethnic minorities; denied rights and freedoms; and depreciated the value of environmental science. Yet she lost. However flawed or less amiable she may be, of the two leading candidates, she still spoke the language of progress. Yet she lost. She worked hard and against the odds became the democratic nominee, yet she lost.

“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.” –Barack Obama

It’s hard to believe the world we live in sometimes. The fact that Americans vote, essentially on behalf of the world. A few hours after months of campaigning- and then a single moment when one concedes. And her concession- our new resolve. Four years of governance bought and paid for by a single moment. And maybe the ground won’t start shaking and maybe the sun won’t fall from the sky. Religion will perhaps continue to be for the religious, rebellion for the recalcitrant, and criminality, ostensibly, for the morally malnourished. But that’s really it- maybes and perhaps. The struggle to keep it about the work and less about the individual.

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Above is my old high school prom dress. My mother, being very sentimental, has held on to it all these years and recently dug it up and gave it to me. The night I wore it I wanted to feel beautiful, but I did not want that to be the extent of my significance as a living being. I did not want to be defined by a dress, or a date, or a dance. I just wanted to experience another cliché moment in time that was bought and paid for by a four year sentence in what was termed the pink prison (my old high school’s nickname). I don’t care so much for the dress now. It was not meant to be perfect forever. In fact, it doesn’t even really fit me anymore as evidenced by the positioning of my hands (I was just over a size 2 back then and now I’m a 0). I grew up but it did not grow with me.

I hope this election does not mean the end of growth and progress these next four years for America and her allies. Dresses can quite easily be discarded; human beings, not so much.

 

 

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