Category Archives: Life

And full stop.

 

I lay in bed last night asking you to visit me in my dreams. To sit with me. Stroke my hair. Peel back your eyelid with your finger like you used to and give me that sweet sweet smile that would sweep away any melancholy clinging to my heart.

Did you hear me?

It’s been five months since you’ve been gone and I waited. I waited for the 40 days to pass so that your soul could finish the journey to heaven. You see I didn’t want to hold you back. And since then, I’ve asked and asked and asked again, and still you don’t come.

So I am writing to you Mama. I’m etching out the lines of my bittersweet grief, because I am afraid if I don’t, you will disappear into the haze of colourless bite sized memories that emerge at family gatherings, becoming sound bytes that are told in the same words every time.

First of all I would like to register a complaint. I heard that you visited my cousin in his dreams. I am not going to pretend and say that I wasn’t irrationally hurt by that. But to expand any further will only make me sound petty, so I will draw wisdom from your own words and know that you must have had your reasons.

You know, I don’t miss you anymore.

Instead the missing has turned into a yawning pulsating longing that won’t go away. I crave you. Doesn’t that sound odd? Normally, when you crave something, you comfort yourself that there’s a chance that you’ll get it. But the eviscerating nature of death means that never ever ever ever ever again will I trace my finger over the crinkly, papery crackle of the skin on your hand, marvelling at how it seems completely unconnected to your flesh. Never ever again. And it makes me want to throw a frenzied tantrum. I get angry at unreasonable things. My fury lashes out its forked tongue at anything that crosses its path. The guy on the road who cuts me off. My ex who has started dating again. My shoulder blade, beneath which a stubborn painful knot has deposited itself and refuses to be dislodged.

I see you everywhere.

On your birthday we took some of your new dresses to a home for the elderly. There was a woman there who had the same gorgeous cloud of silver hair. When I leaned in to kiss her soft cheek, she smelled like you. And it tore me apart inside. I wanted to climb into bed with her, the way I used to on Sundays with you, when you would peel back your eyelid to see who had come in. And cup my face with your trembling hand. With you, I felt unconditional non-judgemental love, the kind I’ve never felt with anyone else, comforted by the knowledge that you had no opinion on how I led my life. You were just happy to have me there.

And we look for meaning everywhere.

In loud whispers we marvel at the enchanting nature with which you almost seemed to plan your death. We grasp onto these signs, refusing to let go. Believing that you were in control.

You died on Mir’aj. The holiest night in the Muslim calendar. When the Prophet’s own soul ascended to Heaven. You were buried on Mother’s Day and when we came back home from the funeral, the headline on the newspaper read ‘Mama’s final journey’. It makes me smile thinking how amused you would have been reading that, and how we would have discussed Mama Lucy’s passing on for days. And your birthday fell on the new moon, when your other favourite granddaughter was leading prayers at the mosque and had to say a special prayer for the departed souls. You would have said how clever she was. I loved that about you. How you always thought everything we did was so clever. How you were filled with awe when I would drive you to mosque, exclaiming that indeed I was very clever to be able to do so.

Here’s the thing Mama. None of us truly understood how exceptionally clever you were. It didn’t strike us as extraordinary that an Indian woman born some 90 years ago could recite Shakespeare as skilfully and passionately as you used to. That it was quite incredible that your KCPE essay was number one in the whole country. That you read every line on the page before you put your signature down on anything. We didn’t understand the odds against which you battled, in a world where women were expected to wear their pachedi and stay put in the kitchen. Daddy says all that the family accomplished in life was because of you. That you were the ambitious, fierce, driving force of their success. And as he tells me the stories, I’m only just beginning to appreciate how remarkable you were Mama.

After your soul left your body, we sat together in the living room, peeling back the memories, year by year, going back in time to the forgotten, which at one time seemed so mundane but all of a sudden felt profound. We took turns, urgently reciting them, all of them we possibly could summon, terrified that they may remain forever forgotten.

The recent. How you would hide your food on the plate underneath the spoon in the hope that you could trick us that you had finished eating. The way your brain would wander back in time, propelling you into a vivid memory that was more real than reality, so that in the middle of praying you would shout out ‘And full stop. Pencils down. That’s all now,’ your brain convinced that you were back teaching a classroom full of rowdy students. We would giggle, delighted that we had the chance to peek into a life of yours from before our time.

The not so recent. How you would brusquely tell your sister to mind her own business when she scolded you for not bothering to dye your hair. Your complete obsession with the curtains being closed the moment the sun even considered setting, yelling out at anybody unfortunate enough to be passing by.

The before. How you would get ready for mosque, making sure that you had the right amount of money in your purse, and heckling Daddy for taking so long, with his dozens of hair creams and potions. How you used to have a crush on Fayaz Qureshi and was completely captivated by his moustache.

The before before. How you would take us for walks as children, lacing up your bulky white sneakers and warning us not to drink your blood. (This saying makes sense in Gujurati, but gets lost in translation). The frank way in which you sat me down and asked me if I had heard about S.E.X and if I had started wearing a brassiere yet. You never called it a bra. Always a brassiere.

Could you hear us then reminiscing? Could you see us in the days leading up to the funeral? Me endlessly lighting sticks of incense, clinging to the ritual of death to protect me from the horror of loss. It hardly seems like the right word, loss. You lose socks, pens, maybe even a job. But how can you use such a casual word to describe the violent ripping away of a chunk of your heart when someone you love dies.

I used to think death was like a switch you just flicked on, and life would instantly stop. But I don’t think its like that anymore. I watched you struggle. I watched the battle as your soul navigated its way out of your body. How for days you sank into the space between two worlds. And when the time came, we knew. And you didn’t want us there. You never told us. But we knew. Inside. Which was strange as you always hated being alone. But this time, you had to do it alone. And so we left you that night. At midnight. For the first time in days. We left you to slip away. And when the phone call came at 2 am. We knew.

And when we gathered around your body in the hospital, holding on to each other desperately for comfort, I remember being filled with such intense gratitude when the nurse asked if she could pray for your soul. First she silently recited a Catholic prayer, then a prayer in Kikuyu. It was a very long prayer Mama. I think you would have been so enormously touched that this woman who only knew you for a few days, would take the time to talk to her God. For you.

And then you would have been very annoyed that they put down ‘housewife’ as your profession on your death certificate. You were a teacher. Proudly so. How arrogantly presumptuous to decide that a woman of your age couldn’t possibly have a career.

I lied. I miss you desperately.

I got your gold filigree ring. Let me tell you, when all the ladies were gathered and asked to pick something of yours, we went in order of descending age. And I prayed so hard that I would get that ring. It was probably the oldest, least valuable, most faded item. But I had spent my whole life slipping my fingers into yours, feeling the ring rubbing up against my skin and watching your face light up as you exclaimed how warm my hands were. And it was the one thing that reminded me most of you. I wear it now on my thumb and when I feel the yearning becomes too much, I look down at it and remember your sweet sweet smile.

Won’t you visit me tonight?

And full stop. Pencils down. That’s all now.

Photo Credit: Paul Saad

 

 

of downward dogs and life lessons

The Lion

I am five years old. My mum has gone mad. Sitting on her heels, fingers splayed out on each knee, her eyes bulge out, pupils rolling back into her head. Her mouth is wide open, so wide I am worried her skin may start to rip at the corners. Her tongue sticks out as if she is trying to catch raindrops. She breathes in. When she breathes out, a long aggressive ‘haaaaaaa’ comes out of her mouth. I am terrified. This is my first introduction to yoga.

Kapalbathi

My grandfather spends several minutes everyday sitting cross-legged on the floor doing a series of breathing exercises. He forcefully thrusts his stomach out and extends it as if he is mimicking being pregnant. And then all of a sudden it snaps all the way back in disappearing into his spine. His tummy undulates like a rippling fleshy wave, in and out at a speed that makes my eyes water. Hundreds of times. A loud puff sound is forced out of his nostrils on every exhale. When I get home, after everyone else has gone to sleep, I sit on my pink bed and try it myself. I get to 7 times and I feel exhausted barely making even a tenth of the speed of my granddad. This is my second encounter with yoga.

Anulom Vilom

In a hall in Westlands, hundreds of women in awe watch the man on stage. They sit on yoga mats in leggings and big baggy t-shirts or pastel coloured Punjabi suits. The man on stage is the famous yogi Ramdev, swathed in his signature flowing orange robes, which yawn at his chest to reveal an arrow of hair that emerges from a tuft in the middle of his chest and descends all the way down to his belly button. He is demonstrating the Anulom Vilom or alternate nose breathing technique which allegedly helps treat insomnia, headaches, depression, eye, hair, ear problems, sinus, high blood pressure, heart diseases etc. His face and head are covered in a cloud of shiny black hair and I am intensely frustrated at the fact that I can’t tell how old the man is. If I could just see through the hair. He finishes his demonstration and starts giving us lifestyle advice. I tune back in just in time to hear ‘Coca Cola atle Toilet Cleaner!’ The hall vibrates in giggles. This is my third meeting with yoga.

Death

We sit across from a Muslim scholar. A few days ago, after a long battle with cancer, my Grandfather slipped through the curtain into the afterlife. The women of my family huddle under the warm quilt of comfort we have woven around ourselves. We emerge to look for answers. We don’t know yet what our questions are. Recognizing eyelids that flutter too fast trying to shoo away tears, the scholar talks about life, about death. He shares theories with us. Your days are not numbered. It is your breaths that are finite. Stress speeds up your breath and so you use them quicker and die faster. Yoga slows down your breath, which is why it is said to elongate your life. This is my fourth tango with Yoga.

Yoga finds me many years later. A shattered body and dislocated heart. Or was it the other way? In that time yoga has become mainstream and jarringly sexy, all Lulu Lemon and designer mats. And overwhelmingly skinny and white. For the first time I feel excluded from something that is at the core of my cultural heritage. Ironically, it takes someone from a very different culture to gently welcome me back. Bubbling with far more energy than is ever warranted at 6:00am, a beautiful woman with the warmest heart and generous soul teaches me how to do my first downward dog. This is a relaxing pose she tells me. My arms quiver. I decide right there and then, there is nothing relaxing about downward dogs.

But in the safety of my garden, with the chirping encouragement of the dawn birds, Irene from Africa Yoga Project starts nurturing my body back into vitality. And without realizing it, my heart starts slowly putting its pieces back together. What emerges is a beautiful new incarnation of its former self, a glittering mosaic where the former cracks sparkle in the light casting playful shadows into the darkness.

Along the four years I have been practicing I learn things. Surprising things. Non-yoga related life things.

Crow Pose

The way you are on the mat is the way you are in life. I am a little skeptical of this new-agey soundbite from Irene. I try to get into crow pose but I keep falling on my face. Frustration rises and splashes my face with an expression that is decidedly not placid. You expect to be perfect immediately. This hits me with the force of primal lust entering your adolescent belly. This is true. It is true of how I live my life. It is what keeps me from writing regularly.

I start paying attention to life.

Tree Pose

I stand on one leg. Focus. On one place. I look at the door of my neighbour’s house and wonder why they would paint it such a hideous shade of blue. My mind wanders. It is a storm. My work threatens to overtake my world. I can’t find balance in my life. Balancing poses require a strong foundation Irene reminds me. My values. They are my foundation. If I ignore them, I will never find focus, and balance will remain a perpetual game of hide and seek. Epiphanies come, and for once they remain stored in the memory of my body.

Headstand vs Straddle bend

My sister looks very comfortable upside down and the last time I was this jealous of her, we were 6 years old and she had won an art competition in school. I had just been told by my art teacher that I should never draw again. I can’t seem to order my brain to lift my legs over my body. I issue the instructions but somewhere along their journey, they get lost and wander over to tell me I have an itch on my lower back. I feel forlorn. Later we are in a straddle bend pose, my forehead is resting lightly on my heels. I look over at my sister. She strains to push her head down to her. She looks at me. Forlorn is familiar. We are all good at different things I tell her in our secret sister code language that is transmitted via hugs.

First Wheel Pose

My body goes into a panic before every wheel pose. My mind whispers a litany of ‘I cant’s’. As if eavesdropping on my inner voice, Irene, ever the sage says, Remove I can’t from your dictionary. My eyes roll backwards and with it, they pull up the rest of my body. I am in wheel. I am in wheel. I am in wheel. In that euphoria, I coin my own saying. Be open to surprise, and don’t be attached to the outcome. Be in the process. I begin to feel rather pleased with myself.

Gazillionth Wheel Pose

I want to introduce myself as Aleya, the wheel accomplisher. The day before yesterday I do ten wheels and I feel invincible. I think, like anything in life, if you do the work, the results will definitely come. Then yesterday I placed my hands near my head, grounded my feet and breathed in. I couldn’t lift myself into even one wheel. And just like that my complacency deflated. Never get cocky, nothing is ever guaranteed in life.

Frog Pose

I am not entirely certain why it is so important to open one’s hips. But Irene seems convinced. So faithfully, I do as she says. Frog pose throws me so violently out of my comfort zone, I am afraid I will never find my way back again. I hold the pose for five minutes. I am truly terrified I will get stuck. That I will remain in this pose for the rest of my life, at the mercy of the goodwill of people to bring me cocktails and read me poetry. They will write about me in the Daily Mail. Breathe into the pain and exhale out the discomfort. This sounds sufficiently abstract, but I figure I am here and I am not going anywhere. So I try it. The discomfort doesn’t ease, but against the odds, on the next inhale I haven’t cracked in two.

Crescent twist with a bind

I adore twists. Irene calls me Mama Twist. I imagine the toxicity being wrung out of my blood and fresh, bright red vitality swooshing back in. If only life was like this. I peep over at my sister. She is in a bind. She looks a pretzel. Or a Japanese Ham Sandwich. The scarlet envy rushes into my blood filling my body with the same toxicity that I am trying to flush out. And just like that I realize I can see the back corner of the balcony. This has never happened before. The envy gets squeezed out and I am filled with wonder. If you don’t stop looking over your shoulder at other people you will miss the magic that’s happening in your own body. In your own life. And then another thought pops into my head. This pose. This isn’t the end game. It is actually irrelevant if I can worm my arm under my knee and clasp my hands together. This where I am right now, is exactly where my body needs to be, where I need to be.

Savasana

My second favourite pose. I lie in corpse pose. My body tingles. I can hear the individual tunes in the harmony of the bird opera, the background score of leaves rustling. I can feel every bead of sweat being sucked up into the air. My skim thrums. I think how wondrous that we have within ourselves the gift to restore our bodies and our minds.

I don’t give a rats arse whether bridge pose will tighten my arse. It truly doesn’t matter. I think of how much I love my body for flying me through life. I think of how much my body loves me.

We aren’t used to being in love, my body and I. It is generally frowned upon for ladies with love handles. This affair is an act of subversion. But I can’t help it. We are deliciously, deeply, divinely in love!

(This post is dedicated to my Yoga guide. Shukraan Irene)

Click for part 1

Picture credit

Dipping my toes

It was a Thursday when I found out my ex-husband had a child. I never did like Thursdays. At my desk, in between writing radio scripts, with Bob Marley blaring in the background, I did the math. We were still married when he fathered this child. Still sharing a bed, sharing a surname, sharing dreams. It was only three years later, after the divorce papers were signed that I now found out. Google snitched. Facebook confirmed. I may have never known. Perhaps one day on a Thursday evening, many years from now, in the middle of the supermarket at the tampon aisle, I may have run into a teenage girl with the green eyes of a man whose heartbeat was once my lullaby. These eyes would have haunted me all night, as I tried to figure out how she stole the eyes of a child that was supposed to be mine.

The Thursday I found out, I walked out of the office, willing myself not to fall apart until I was in the safety of my car, where the closed windows would at least give me the illusion that my wails couldn’t be heard. It felt like this was another woman’s life. Not mine. Clearly there had been some sort of a mistake. This life didn’t fit the way I had planned. Surely it was supposed to be for someone else. Not me.

I had already done the whole coming to terms with my marriage falling apart thing. What a trip. Certainly not planning on going through that again. And just as I had closed that book, caught my breath, exhaled, this new wave of betrayal washes over me. Hot. Frothing. Greedy. You see, husbands never leave their wives for the other woman. Isn’t that what everyone says? But mine did. So what does that say about me? A rejection too sharp in its bite to contemplate.

Rewind.

There was another woman.

There was a child.

There is a child.

Not ours.

His.

With her.

And like I do with most things that are too terrifying to dive deep into, I closed my eyes and ran, screaming into the night, far, far, far away, filling my life with busy. So much busyness. Hoping it would sink into oblivion, cease to exist. After all, if my consciousness never registered that it had happened, then did it really happen? But it did. And this one refuses to be covered up with layers of work and life. It threatens to spread the rot to everything I throw over it. Screams with a sound so shrill, only my heart can hear it. Emits an odour so foul, it climbs deep into the nostrils and lodges itself within the nose hairs, nestled right next to the memory of the stench of death.

So this is me, dipping my toe into the pool of pain and swirling it around. Slowly submerging myself in it. Allowing my body to register a change of space. Because one day, it will adapt and the pain won’t be new, won’t be something to be felt, it will have just woven itself into the rich fabric of the person I am.

It has taken me weeks to write this piece. I wanted to wait for the bile in my throat to dissolve. I only wanted to write it if it served a purpose. I wasn’t sure I would write it at all, but it stopped me from writing anything else. I contemplated taking down this post, my homage to a love that once was, the remnants of which lingered in my heart, until that Thursday morning, when it disappeared instantly. Went poof in the air, soundlessly, quite undramatically. Where did it go? Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but transformed from one form to another. So what has it become, this energy that once fuelled my tomorrows? Love is a shape-shifter. Perhaps love isn’t really energy after all but merely a story we tell ourselves. Then I read the comments you left on that post, and I became acutely aware of a gift you had left for me in the footprints beneath the post. I realised, when you write your truth, it frees people to give themselves permission to acknowledge their own truths. Permission to feel their own pain.

So I write.

I used to have this irrational fear. That I would marry a serial killer and one day end up on The Crime Channel, the wife of a hacker, truly stupefied, sitting on our sofa with an array of family portraits mocking me as I proclaimed to the world that really I had no idea. It has always terrified me, the possibility of a deception so bold, the knowledge that you can really not know someone so profoundly, and still think that you do. In a way, that is what happened to me. Because I really had no idea.

I was never able to understand what pulled the thread that unravelled it all. Untill that Thursday. It would be mostly married people who would ask, arranging their expressions into the correct proportions of comforting/not prying/caring/non-judgemental, furrowing their eyebrows a little, softening their eyes, leaning in and asking, ‘so why did the marriage break apart?’

And I would say, I had no idea. They would look at me with disbelief. And then irritation. Like I was lying to them. As if I had the secret, but was just being inconsiderate and selfish with the wisdom of the-thing-not-to-do, and if I just shared it with them, they could sleep secure in the knowledge that they were not doing that-thing-not-to-do, and if they just continued not doing that-thing-not-to-do, they would be fine. And live happily ever after.

The truth is there is no road map to failure. There is no formula either. Perhaps that’s why Indian weddings are steeped with rituals to bring luck to the couple. Maybe our ancestors knew that you may as well place all your chips on luck, because everything else is too subjective to be relied upon.

So what would I do differently? I honestly don’t know. Except for one thing. I wouldn’t expect someone else to be responsible for my happiness. No matter how much I love them. It is too great a burden to place on anyone’s shoulders. And when you hand over your happiness to another human being, you give away your power, your sparkle. And that is a monumentally bad idea, after all your sparkle is all you really have in this world that is truly yours.

Photo Credit: Volkan Olmez

F**K BEAUTY

When you can’t write what you need to write, you write what you can. I want to write about…

That new Dove ad is absurdly symbolic. Women in five cities around the world are made to choose one of two doors in order to enter a space. The entries are labelled ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Average’. There seems to be no other way to gain access to the building. Your physical appearance is your only admission. Choose beautiful Dove says. F**K that.

My sister looked radiant tonight. I don’t know if I have ever seen her glow like this. When she made her entrance into the hall, mischief captured her and she threw her hennaed hands up in the air, her intricately brown laced hands swirling through the air as she danced. Little dried flecks sprinkled off her hands like black confetti. Later my father, handsome in his turquoise blue sherwani interrupted the proceedings to give a delicately whiskey laced speech in honour of the bride. And my grandfather wept. He has been weeping for weeks. ‘It’s not like I am dying’, she keeps telling us. I am just getting married. We still weep. We will miss her.

These women going about their lives, doing ordinary and extraordinary things were interrupted, forced to pick a box. Am I beautiful? Am I average? Those are your only two options. Select carefully. If I pick beautiful, does it mean I have good self-esteem or a healthy dose of self-delusion and a dash of conceit. If I pick average, does it mean I have a low sense of worth, or just that I have a grasp of reality with a sprinkling of humility. Pick carefully. This defines you as a woman.

It is 5:02 am. We tumble into the house, all a little tipsy and absolutely ravenous. I climb up the stairs, removing my heavy jewellery along the way and leaving a trail of my unravelling brushed gold lace sari. I gaze into the mirror at my glazed kohl lined eyes, and tell myself I must get my henna done tomorrow. Who ever heard of the bride’s sister having bare hands at her sister’s wedding. I play that game, where you look deeply into the reflection of your eyes, and try to see yourself as a stranger would. I kick off my heels, and check  my phone for the first time that day. I scroll down the timeline on twitter. In horror. Feverishly.

What’s with all this focus on beauty anyways? Why is beauty the penultimate quality that every woman should aspire to, that every woman is judged by, that every woman works towards. Am I beautiful? Sometimes I am. Today I was not. My aching body pulled down my shoulders into a defiant droop. My eyes were heavy, lined, sad. My hair looked like a nest, the curls spectacularly pulling off both frizz and limp in one deft move. My cheeks were puffy from two weeks of over-indulgence and too little sleep. Yesterday I was beautiful, my eyes sparkled. My thighs filled out my jeans lusciously. My hair was a dust filled mess of curls that made me look like I had emerged from a fabulous horizontal adventure. Am I beautiful? Who the F**K cares anyways?

We make cheese sandwiches and ginger chai. To feed our hunger. To fill the gaping pit in our stomachs that has spread its tentacles into our throats. We murmur. Garissa. We stand around the kitchen table, our hands nestling hot cups of comfort. I choke down a sob with a mouthful of melted cheese. We eat in silence. My sister is asleep. We don’t want to spoil her wedding. Outside, the dogs howl as the sun threatens to rise.

I imagine having a conversation about beauty with my unborn daughter. Perhaps I will write her a letter, from me at my 33 year old self. Dear daughter, I will write. They brought booty back. Well, it started with Jennifer Lopez, then Beyonce seconded it and Kim Kardashian confirmed it with her attempt to break the internet with butt. And if you have my genes, dear daughter, your booty will be one thing. Flat. You see, in 2014 it was all about that bass, and I was all treble. And tremble. I will tell her that they keep changing the goalposts, and you can never keep up. So ignore the rules and create your own instead. Refuse to be judged by your beauty. Refuse to be judged at all. I wonder which door I would have walked through. Beautiful or average? I think I would have kicked a hole in that wall instead, and entered the space on my own terms, who the F**K says I have to be one or the other?

It feels wrong to be getting henna on my hands. But I sit there obediently, arms resting on a cushion as the woman squeezes the silver foil cone which hovers above my hand, while she moves her wrist to draw swirling flowers on my palm. The paste tickles as it lands. The patterns form in the air before they settle onto my skin. It is cool and fragrant. I feel the henna sucking the heat from my blood as it dries, drawing out the warmth to deepen in colour. I want to cry. I feel numb. The henna lady bites her lip in concentration. I bite my lip in anguish. I check the news. I don’t know what else to do. Numbers. All I see is numbers. Where are the faces, the stories, the dreams?

It’s about inner beauty. It’s about feeling beautiful. It’s about choosing to feel beautiful, silly. I don’t care. I am tired of society bombarding me with messages that a woman’s worth is valued by her beauty. There is so much more to me. Don’t you see? I am kind. I am goofy. I am sensitive. I am intelligent. I am funny. I am (insert whatever random characteristic I feel like at this precise moment in time.) So would it have made me feel better if you put those terms instead of average and beautiful? No! Stop putting me in boxes. Stop defining me by one thing or another. I am more than a damn label. I am what I do. Sometimes I feel beautiful, and sometimes I don’t. What’s the big deal? Why the F**K does it even matter!?

Day three of the wedding. I stare at the blinking cursor. I am trying to write a speech for my sister’s wedding reception. Nothing comes out. I think this is because it is too difficult to sum up an entire relationship in a few hundred words. Or maybe it is because I can’t remember anything from when we were growing up. My memory is notoriously bad. I joke that maybe I have a brain tumour. Secretly I am scared that I do. My sister has always been my repository for our childhood memories. I think about all those sisters who lost their sisters. Whose sisters were murdered. Who will never, ever, ever see their sisters again. The grief clasps my throat again. The speech loses meaning. A friend tells me that if I have something to celebrate at this time, that I must do it. The speech becomes the most important thing in the world.

I am born with the looks that I have. I don’t have much control over that. What I do have control over is the things that I choose to do with my time. When we place so much currency on looks, so much energy, focus and time is spent trying to change these looks to fit whatever flitting definition of beauty there may be at that time. Because subliminally we are made to believe that we don’t deserve to enjoy life fully, unless we look beautiful. So that girl who stands on stage singing her soul out holds back a little. Because maybe if she sings too big, they will notice her acne. And it won’t matter how much beauty her singing filled the air with, because her face is not beautiful. So maybe you aren’t beautiful. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because your gifts to the world are so much deeper than just the way you look. Imagine if we spent all that time and energy we spend on looking beautiful, on trying to feel beautiful, on showing the world just how beautiful we are, and instead focused on the things that actually mattered. On making the world a better place. Stop shoving the message down my face that I can look beautiful or that I should feel beautiful. Instead leave me the F**K alone, so I can do beautiful things.

So many of our Kenyan brothers and sisters have been robbed of their chance to do beautiful things. Beauty has been stolen. The henna is fading. The numbness has not. My sister has left for the next part of her life, a chapter full of promise and hope. #147NotJustANumber they will not be forgotten. We will say their names out loud.  We will remember them. Every single one. We have to find a way to make sure that this never happens again. We pray for strength for their families. There can never be enough words. But we must try. We must not let silence steal them away from us.

I pray for the day when beauty doesn’t seem so trivial.

When it ceases to be a luxury in Kenya to have a life uninterrupted by tragedy.

When the people who have the power to actually do something actually gave a shit.

Sometimes grief hides. It disguises itself as anger and lashes out at enemies of its own making.

Sometimes you have to write the thing you can, to write the thing you need to.

Photo Credit

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Closing the book

You get married and you think this is the man you will spend the rest of your life with.

Then life happens.

You separate, and for the next three years you don’t see him. You don’t hear his voice. The soft lilt in his Rs. You don’t see him ruffled up in the morning before he puts on his armour to face the world. You don’t smell him in the corridor before you leave the house. You don’t see his name pop up on your phone. You don’t know what song he belts out as he drives with the window down and Bluetooth earpiece on. You don’t know what person he thinks is a complete muppet. You don’t hear the word muppet anymore. You never have to put the toilet seat down.

You begin to wonder if you dreamed the whole thing up.

The waves now wash over you once every month. Not once every minute. While they come with the same force, they just don’t last as long. And they don’t leave you gasping and clutching the floor, as if you were to lose contact with the earth, you could be sucked up into the atmosphere. You still get that familiar feeling every now and then, that he is around. The same feeling you would get just before he used to call. It was always unsettling how you both could sense when the other was about to call. It worries you that you still feel it. That maybe even though your bodies have separated, and you have forced your hearts to detach, your souls are intertwined. What if they refuse to disentangle? What if they stay bound to each other forever. You contemplate what that means. Think about how you could be alone for the rest of your life because of a stubborn and uncooperative soul.

Over time your life becomes delicious. You don’t recognise the old you anymore. People from then don’t recognise the new you.

You start to feel like you are ok.

But it always lingers. It creeps into your pieces and plonks down in the middle of the page, cross legged with arms folded and refuses to move. You write around it. Humour it. Hope that over time it will get bored and move away. But it’s always there, like the cool breeze on a cheek just kissed by a departed lover.

You get a phone call from an area code that you remember from your furtive teenage years. You answer too quickly, and when the voice says hello, you marvel at how it’s possible to forget how the man you loved so desperately says hello. Then you realise, it isn’t him. You are relieved. You are devastated. Minutes later you receive another phone call.

A few days after that, you wake up in the morning, look into your eyes in the mirror and wonder. What does one wear to the funeral of a marriage. You decide on black heels, a black dress, nude stockings, a silver peacock ring and the silver necklace he bought you. You dab the Haloud he loves. Because you want to make his stomach clench the same way you know yours will. Because you want him to remember.

You refuse anyone to come with you. You think it’s because you don’t want your thoughts intruded upon by conversation. Really, it’s because you don’t want him to think you needed anyone there. Honestly, it’s because you want what you know will be the last moments you ever see each other again, to be private. Your own. Not shared. You take a taxi. You know from experience that driving through tears is dangerous.

You are still ok.

You walk into the court, sit down and feel your bag vibrate. You check your phone and see a whatsapp message in the family chat. It has come in just after a bunch of your sister’s wedding planning messages. It says,

‘When you come to the end of the book, you close it.’

It’s from your dad. You smile at his unsentimental practical advice. And at that moment he walks in.

You realise, you are not ok. The waves come, thick and forceful. You clutch onto the court bench. You can feel your face getting hotter, redder, constricted. Your tears bubbling up behind your eyes, threatening to betray you. You watch him stride in. He wears a suit you don’t recognise. It upsets you deeply. You remember how you would line up his suits in the closet, like soldiers waiting to be called to duty. You search for familiarity on his body. Tie. Cufflinks. Shoes. Shirt. Watch. Anything that will reveal the life you once had was real and not imagined. Nothing. He opens his mouth to speak and you hear the memories from two decades of love tumble out into the courtroom. Your first kiss. Your best friend. If it couldn’t work with him, can it every work with anyone?

Afterwards when he kisses you on the cheek, his smell scrapes your heart, and you inhale it in trying to capture it so you can hold it in captivity. You fit three years into ten minutes and you say something pithy like,

‘The more life changes, the more it stays the same.’

He smiles and shakes his head in remembrance of you. And you say goodbye.

A few days later, on Valentines day, you are at the same beach that you first met. The beach where you had your first kiss. Where you stole away from nosy adults, running breathlessly hand in hand in sinking sand until you were far enough away. The sounds of Kiss from a Rose. You remember touching his knee. Marvelling at how long his legs were. Thinking to yourself this didn’t happen to girls like you. The beach where over a decade later you met again, and he swept you into his arms to dance in the moonlight. Drunk off of a bottle of Chivas, you told him to promise he wouldn’t break your heart. Now at 2 am, your shadow trails across the rippled sand. You stare out at the ocean and will yourself to let it go. As wave after frothy wave licks your toes, you wonder if there is a ritual that would help you release it. You know there isn’t a trick or formula, and you recognise that while the ache is still there, now it doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t demand all your attention. It sits quietly, fading and pulsing. You take off all your clothes and you walk into the milky blackness of the ocean and as you lie there under the blanket of stars, you imagine if you had cremated your marriage and tossed the ashes into the ocean, it would be sucked up into the night sky and become the twinkling.

You remember how delicious your life is.

Exactly five years after you walked into your husband’s home as his wife, you begin to write this piece that makes you feel like you walked out onto Uhuru Highway on a Friday evening stark naked for everyone to stare at.

But, you write it because it is your truth.

You write it to honour the love you once shared.

You write it because someone out there may see themselves in it and take comfort.

You write it because you know he will read it and maybe your souls will recognise the need to disentangle.

You write it in the hope that if you release it onto the page, you won’t have to remember to remember it, and it will start loosening its clutch on you.

You are ok mostly. And sometimes you are not. And that is ok too.

One Year On

My writing process is a bit like being constipated. I feel bloated with unformed ideas and grumpy with blocked up words. I get irritable and it consumes me. I can think of nothing else. Conversations feel like an invasion on my thoughts, and I resent people expecting me to participate in life. All I can think about is this piece I am supposed to be writing. If my life had a soundtrack, these moments would be mournful country music performed by a one eyed, bourbon soaked, Banjo playing, cowboy hat wearing, white bearded Southerner with wrinkles etched at the corner of his eyes.

This phase can last days. Even weeks. Mostly, I tell myself to be patient. Allow the words to marinate, swish and swirl around in some sort of accidental alchemy. Pamper them, so when they emerge, they come out ripe and plump and succulent. Bouncing with vigor. Vibrating with energy. Glistening with sheen. Sometimes I try to push. Show up and type. Squeeze one painful tiny pellet after the other. Other times a turn of phrase will appear in my head, all glittering and lithe, and instantly seduce me, demanding to be written down and adorned with other words. I have to quickly get to a laptop and purge out everything that’s been bubbling in my brain before it spills over. Unfortunately, this happens mostly in the shower, or when I am driving. So my notebook has taken to looking like a dog wrote down a Chinese poem whilst white water rafting. Often, I need a laxative. So I turn to the Masters. Furiously devouring line after line. Page after Page. Piece after Piece. Envy is a powerful tool.

And when it’s all out, and my system is cleansed, my God it feels good. For the next 10 minutes. Then it starts all over again.

It has been one year since I started this blog. I have always wanted to write. I have always wanted to be a writer. I used to write when I was younger, and then went on a decade long hiatus where I consumed a lot, but created very little. That little seed of desire grew in me, sprouting scented leaves of yearning, its branches sprawling out and invading every ounce of my being. Until it took over my body. And the stakes became too high. It meant too much. I was paralysed by the fear of mediocrity. You see, I wanted to be a big fat famous widely read much adored even more discussed author. Oh and rich of course. I wanted my writing to touch millions of people in the world. To Move Them. And I wanted it to be perfect now! I had built a mountain of pressure too high to climb and too heavy to bear. And so I watched from afar, reading jealously and watching wistfully as other writers wrote their stories.

I love words. I love how a few innocent words strung together, can sweep you away, make you gasp for breath, make you want to inhale them, absorb them, chew them, suck them, swallow them, turn them into a part of who you are, unravel them syllable after syllable, peel away the layers, pick at the spokes to understand how they can make you feel this way. I love words.

My family urged me on and I had little spurts. Buoyed and inspired by my dear friend Nafisa’s writing, I set up an obscure little blog, and in the dead of the night, blue light blinking, I furtively wrote a tiny piece which I dropped onto the internet, and ran away scared to look at it ever again.

I whispered this desire to friends and got some dubious advice. Samo’s theory was that my voracious reading appetite was friendzoning my own writing. I was getting too intimidated by all the incredible work I was reading to ever make a move. His solution. The classic play hard to get technique. Stop reading completely. This was advice I promptly ignored. He may as well have asked me to give up life.

Have you ever wanted something so badly, that you would rather believe in the possibility of its existence, than discover for sure that it doesn’t exist? If I never wrote, in my head I could potentially be an incredible writer. And I could die happy with that mirage. If I wrote, I ran the risk of finding out that I am actually simply mediocre. And life can never be the same after that.

This is what writing meant to me.

Then almost exactly a year ago, I sent some incredibly self-indulgent writing to Biko Zulu, whose writing I adore, asking him what he thought of it. Biko was not entrenched in the literary circles I inhabited, and I needed an opinion that was removed. His response was sufficiently obscure. He said something about how my writing was like water. It had depth, movement but then went still…. I didn’t know Biko well enough at the time to figure out whether he intended that as a compliment or a literary side duck. But I was going to take what I got. So when he ordered me to stop being such a p****y, set up a blog and send him a link by morning, it seemed simple enough. Chanyado was born. One simply doesn’t argue with Biko’s forehead.

I had no idea what the blog was about, but I knew I just had to write. Chanyado would be my playground, where I would scrape my knees and bruise my arms as I stumbled and explored. All I aspired to was getting to point where my writing stopped making me cringe. And hopefully someone along the way would read and enjoy a piece or two.

A side note. Who are all you people googling ‘women in saris peeing’?? I can see you. The back end of my blog shows the search terms that lead to Chanyado. If you are typing those words with a half empty jar of Vaseline by your mouse pad, please go away. This is not that sort of establishment!

And so it’s been a year. My palms still tingle and butterflies still chakacha in my belly every time I open a blank word document. The sheer terror does not go away. You just get used to it. You ask it to please take up a little less space and ka-square, so that you can breathe a little, so that you can play a little, so that you can dance a little.

I have realised, that this piece here, and the one before it, and the one after it. They all have to happen for the next piece to be written. They are important not because of what they say, but because of the way they teach me how to say it. This is not my masterpiece. But it is the ploughing of the field, so that the soil is aerated enough that when the time comes, the sunflowers can bloom.

Malcom Gladwell has a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at your craft. If I had done three hours a day, every day, from the day I declared I wanted to write, by now I may have been halfway to becoming the writer I want to be. So I tell you. If something means that much to you. If the stakes are that high. Start now. Don’t wait. Three years from now, you will remember me. You will be glad you used your training wheels, so that when the real race comes, you are primed, ready to feel the wind in your hair, and the taste of victory on your tongue.

To everyone who reads, comments, shares. Thank you for being part of this journey. It isn’t the done thing to say this, but I really do care rather a lot what people think, because I don’t really write for me. I write for you. I write to share a different perspective on life, to make your soul exhale, to stop your world for a second as you inhale beauty in language…in story…in a truth.

To Chanyado. It’s been a year. It’s time to shake off the training wheels.

Photo Credit

How to to get married Indian Style Part 1

The first thing you need to know is that an Indian wedding has very little to do with the couple getting married. And it certainly has absolutely nothing to do with love. Please. That’s for dizzy white people. The sole purpose of an Indian wedding is one thing and one thing alone.

To show off.

Why else have you slaved day and night building an empire if you can’t take blow it all on the ultimate spectacle to end all shows. Its not just a wedding you are organising. Its an experience you are designing. I mean for Shahrukh’s sake we have Bollywood to live up to to. It is our ethnic duty. Its our way of saying ‘But do I say.’ And by the way, Luo funerals aint got nothing on Indian weddings.

So fasten your bindis, put on your bangles and ensure your sari is securely tucked away into your petticoat to avoid any embarrassing predicaments.

The next thing you need to know is that an Indian wedding lasts on average five days. You know what that means. Five themes. Five colour schemes. Five dresses. Five menus. Five locations. Five bands. Five times the arguments. Five time the stress. Five times the drama. And Kenyan brides you thought you had it bad? Remember, each day has its own prescribed set of rituals that must be followed very precisely to ward off bad luck. Because luck is what it takes to keep a marriage together. Apparently.

First things first. A weight loss regime. I’m not talking about the bride silly. Who’s going to be looking at her anyways. I am talking about everyone else. It is imperative that you squeeze into that midriff baring outfit without jiggling on the dance floor. Pudge is so 1960s. Those that can afford to (and many who can’t) nip over to India to get their tummy snipped. Why go on a diet or exercise, when size zero can be bought off a menu the other side of the Indian Ocean.

Now that the most important thing is taken care of, the planning may commence.

It would be simply unthinkable to have all the events in the same location. You need a garden venue with pristine lawns for the peacocks you borrowed to strut in. An indoor venue that can be lit up to accentuate the sparkle of the 10kg heavy wedding sari made of Parisian lace and embroidered with thousands of Swarovski crystals hand sewn by stubby fingered turbaned Rajasthani villagers. Naturally, there will be ice sculptures of swans with garlands made of Orchids flown in from Thailand, so air conditioning is essential. And a helipad. You hardly expect the bride to walk to the aisle do you?

Now for the wedding cards. Or should I say merchandise. This is not a wedding. It is a brand. And every component must reflect the brand. The trend of the moment is to have a chocolatier curate a bespoke tray of Belgian chocolate truffles and slip the wedding cards inside the box. It should appear effortless, nonchalant, casual. Like this is what all your correspondence looks like.

The guest list is probably the most stressful part of the wedding. It is a careful balancing act that needs to be approached with the delicate gritted teeth diplomacy of a high level United Nations Security Council meeting. Or a freedom of speech march in the streets of France. This is the birth ground of inter-generational family feuds.  You see not everybody is invited to every event. An invitation is not a right. It is a privilege deigned upon those deemed worthy enough to consume of the family’s opulence. The grandparents will insist on inviting every breathing object that has crossed their paths since they got on the ship from India. There will be resistance to this by the financier of the wedding who sees every person invited as a per capita expenditure. We are Indian after all. You didn’t expect we made our millions by being careless with our money. The magic number will be attained by calculating the minimum number of people required to create enough of a ripple in the community about the extravagance of the wedding. Gossips will be weighted at a higher priority level.

Five days of events represents five ways to dazzle a captive audience with your imaginative, sophisticated and cultured theme ideas. There is no such thing as ‘too much’. Bollywood Hungama is a must. Arabian Nights is a standard. Afternoon High Tea has garnered favour of late. Kitenge Couture is a new entrant to the theme catalog. Black Tie is the perfect opportunity to show off those backless ball gowns you paid so much money to squeeze into. Oscars. Because Hollywood is still cooler than Bollywood. And West is best.

For entertainment, there are two obligatory acts. The first is the big Bollywood Act. Remember, again the magic is in capitalizing on tremors created in the community by the arrival of this star. The sweet spot lies in the minimum expenditure for the maximum buzz. It used to be that the winner from Indian Idol did the trick, but that has just gotten so predictable. Every Shah, Patel and Singh can get an Indian Idol to come down. You need to up the ante, raise the game, increase the stakes. You require a bona fide lip syncing, hip swiveling, torso thrusting Bollywood actor. Complete with outfit changes and back up choreographed dancers. Obviously! If you can arrange for Snow/Arabian desert/Amazon Rainforest/Sunflower Fields as a backdrop, you are winning. The second item for Entertainment is the home grown cringe inducing dance number performed by cousins and friends of the couple. For this to be authentic, it must be choreographed and taught to you by the dynamic Russian (?) duo, Action In Focus.

Now for the food. The most important part of any Indian wedding. The creme de la creme of the whole debacle. This is where you cannot afford to experiment. The buffet table must be groaning under the weight of hundreds of delicacies; Beef Biriyani, Vegetable Biriyani, Chicken Biriyani, Goat Biriyani, Hyderabadi Biriyani. Why choose when you can serve them all! Rotlis, Naans, Papadaums, Dhosas, Idlis, Parathas. Why choose when you can serve them all! Potato Curry, Cauliflower Curry, Eggplant Curry, Ladyfingers Curry. Why choose when you can serve them all! Ras Malai, Gulab Jamun, Kheer, Shrikand, Laddoos. Why choose…ok you get the picture. You see the thing is, if the menu does not have enough variety,  Michael Jackson himself could be moonwalking across the dance floor, but the only thing that people will have to say about the wedding is that the food was bakwas.

And after all. What people say is the whole point of the wedding in the first place.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

And congratulations to my sister and brother-in-law to be. Let the wedding planning madness begin!

Photo Credit

The Stage: Prelude (2013)

The one where naughty sounds assail the silence

It was circa 1995 and the school was casting for our end of term play. A musical no less. The Soul Sisters, a jazzy take on The Blues Brothers. I was assured of an appropriately glamorous role. After all I considered myself a triple threat, actor, dancer, singer, all extraordinaire, all just waiting to be unleashed on the world, in a flurry of show stopping talent that would have me scooped up and transported directly to Lupita-dom. My teachers would proudly declare in E! News documentaries, ‘From the moment she stepped on that stage, we knew she was destined for greatness. She always had that IT factor.’

Considered is the imperative word here.

I ended up getting the part of The Penguin. A droll, matronly nun who shuffled around stage in a distinctly drab long habit. Not one of the dangerous and sexy soul sisters who twisted and jazz-handed their way out of prison, leaving a wake of swooning jailbirds singing choreographed songs of heartbreak. A nun. To be honest, I would have been happier cast as Tree No 2. To my typically irrational teenage self, this had to be an extravagant ploy by my father to ensure no boy would ever be interested in me. Get thee to a nunnery! So I decided to play the hell out of the nun, lure the boys with my impressive acting talent. They’d be hanging by the tails of my habit! They wouldn’t even notice the two pouting long-legged Soul Sisters (who I will admit deserved the roles and were brilliant). I will tell you this, I killed it as The Penguin. No Nun had ever been played quite as Nun-ly. Of course the boys were still not interested.

It took two decades for me to get back on stage. A rather noisy part in the Vagina Monologues that would have put a blush on Sally’s cheeks and made a mortified Harry climb under the table. Like most things in my life, when asked if I was interested in being involved, I said yes and then thought about it later. Or actually not at all. I remember thinking as I sat on the stool, hand gripping the mike stand for support, blinded by the spotlight and sweating from unadulterated fear, either you go all out here Aleya, or you look like a complete fool. You may still look like an idiot, but at least you will do it in style. And so I shut my eyes and began. And went on. Guttural. And on. Shrill. And on. Breathless. And on. Restrained. Until finally, the triple.…for those of you who have watched the Vagina Monologues you will know exactly what I am talking about. Getting swept up in the moment, it took a while for my brain to register that instead of the deathly silence I had feared, there were the unabashed sounds of an audience who had clearly enjoyed watching me pretend to enjoy myself. It was completely disarming. And a little bit addictive. We did three more shows, and in each one, I tried to add more nuance to the sounds, more personality. I gave colour to each character. What would make this one emit this sort of sound? What’s her backstory? Why does she feel the need to contain herself? Or give directions? Or be so wanton? Why does she feel the need to do THAT? What keeps her awake at night? It is possible I got carried away. But isn’t that the mark of a true actress!! Stop rolling your eyes. I am letting you in on my artistic process. You should feel privileged, if only a little.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects was that I gained a certain reputation. I would be in official meetings, and a lady across the table would peer at me, saying over and over again, I know you from somewhere. As soon as she realised where, her face would break out into a cheeky grin, and she would say, you are The Moaner. And then wink at me in complicity. Then she’d ask for a reprisal, so that her colleagues could get a taste of what they missed. Like you can drop that variety of moans at the click of a finger! Hrmph. It took time to build up my repertoire. You can’t just switch that stuff on and off. I would blush furiously, wondering what sort of person they imagined me to be in real life. After all, it has to say something about your character that you can willingly makes those sorts of sounds in front of complete strangers. Confident, liberated and a bit of an exhibitionist or simply a shameless fool?

The Vagina Monologues is an incredibly special show, not just for those who watch it, but also those who are part of the cast. Someone once told me the monologue you most need is the one that finds its way to you. And mine was a release. For a few years I had carefully bound up the real me, wrapping her up in a bundle of rope wound over and over into a neat little package. With a sweet little bow to stop anything inappropriate from spilling out. I couldn’t behave this way. I couldn’t possibly say those things. Out loud. What would They think? Nobody forced me to do it. Not directly. Nobody said I had to be a certain way. Not out loud. I did that to myself. Because I thought this is the way you are supposed to be when you become someone’s wife. This is the way society tells you to be. In the newspapers. In the whispers among aunties. In the advice from near strangers. All subliminal. All taking place so stealthily, you hardly notice the rope winding tighter and tighter. Like a noose.

And in those moans, under that spotlight, surrounded by incredible women, something happened. The rope started unfurling and I started to tumble out. It wasn’t like a burst dam gushing and pouring out. But more a fraying. A gentle, gradual loosening, so that bits of me could poke out, gasping for air, and greedily gulping down large pockets of fresh air. The blue numbness of confinement started to fade away, giving way to a tentative flush. And thus the stage was set to pave the way for a more outspoken me. A more uninhibited me. A more reflective me. A concentrated, undiluted and definitely exhibitionist me. After all, isn’t the urge to write about yourself for complete strangers to read just a tad bit exhibitionist?

Above all, a more unapologetic me that I want to share with the world, for in the embracing of my curves and edges, perhaps it may stop one other woman from binding the real her into a constricting package of the-way-the-world-expects-her-to-be.

And for that it will be worth it.

Next – The Stage: Act One (2014)

The one where silence stills the noise

Photo Credit

Twenty Fourteen

In exactly twelve hours from now my grandfather’s big wooden grandfather clock will fill the house with twelve triumphant rings. It freaks me out. This loud acknowledgement of the passing of time. Like a warning that yet another hour has passed. And another. And another. And with such lyrical pizzazz. I imagine a little old man inside the timepiece, his patent leather heels delicately balanced on the wheels of time, decked in a top hat, forked coat tails and conductor’s wand waving it this a way and that a way, urging his orchestra on to make it count….make it count….play like this will be the last time you will ever play…..infuse the humans listening with a sense of urgency to stop sitting around, grab life and figure it out dammit…but make sure it is beautiful.

So much pressure!

And so another year will pass. I really despise new year’s eve. The pressure to have an extraordinary night full of fun. If you don’t have fun you will have failed at New Year’s Eve. And at the year. It’s never fun. It is sloppy and anti-climactic and I spend most of the time waiting for the fun to appear, and then getting stressed out that the fun hasn’t found me, and thus I must go out and find it. That never ends well. And so it the expectant excitement gradually dissolves into a fizzled resignation. Another year gone.

Did it count? Have you figured life out yet?

For the last few years, I have been celebrating the first day of the year. Tomorrow I will wake up fresh eyed, bushy tailed and I will go for a walk in the forest and watch the butterflies skip around me, listen to old trees whispering dirty jokes, feel the fresh air tease out the pink in my cheeks, and feel alive. Because that is what counts. Not the list of accomplishments I can tick off. Or the mounting figures in my bank account. Or the skinnier and blingier my gadgets get. But the sublime release that comes with an exhale. The smile that tugs your eyelids shut in a moment of pleasure. The infinite possibility that fills your body when you inhale. The puzzling questions that pop up. (Where did all the lady birds go? And do birds get wet when it rains?) The being alive. And healthy. The agency of living life not to the tune of a clock chiming or the midnight ball dropping, but as you please. Rolling with the waves. Being carried by the breeze. Without the need to have it all figured out.

I started out this post trying to record my year. I have a terrible memory. Almost no childhood recollection. In fact I am convinced I have a little brain goblin that greedily gobbles up everything that happens to me and spits it out into a mush of grey nostalgia. It has been an incredible year for me. A year that I started off unemployed, burnt out and with no idea what on earth I was going to do with myself. Along the way, without me realizing, wonderful things happened. I thought I would capture them all here in this post. The truth of the matter is that they don’t deserve to be squashed all together, so over the next few days I will take my time, languorously trace them out, season them delicately, allow them sizzle and ripen and then release them into the world. So that the gluttonous brain goblin doesn’t get to them. So that I can look back and remember in technicolor the year that was 2014.

I think back to the grandfather clock.  To the composer of the tune that marks the passing of time. For 2015 I ask him to create me a tune oozing with gratitude for a life well lived. On my terms. A tune that stills instead of alarms. A tune that makes me skip instead of dash. A tune that inspires me look out of the window to watch as the branches sway with the wind. Instead of snapping under the pressure. A tune that will inspire the conductor’s orchestra to play as if their sounds will be the last thing the soul hears as it escapes the body. A tune that fills me with certainty that every moment is as it should be. Just as it is. No more. No less.

May your 2015 be full of mischief.

Photo Credit

Lost

A few years ago, at a time when I was teetering at the edge of a world that had spun me silly, a friend of mine, Jefe, someone I love deeply, told me I should ‘go find myself’. The statement got under my skin. Drove me up the wall. There weren’t enough ways to make the phlegm in my throat display my dissatisfaction at such clichéd philosophical arrogance. What infuriated me most was his flippancy. As if we were talking about misplacing my purple striped sock with the holey heel.  As if all the glue I needed to stick together the pieces of a disoriented broken Aleya, could be found at that ka-duka on the corner of Biashara Street owned by the moustached oily haired man and packaged in a repurposed Safari Cane bottle, the smell of drowned dreams stifled by the hastily scrawled label ‘Go Find Yourself’.

Go Find Myself. My inner sarcastic monologue was on a rampage. Go Find Myself. Well, I hadn’t even realised I had lost myself in the first place. How careless of me. How utterly irresponsible. Typical really of a girl who is always losing socks and pens and earrings. I wonder how it happened. Maybe it fell out one of those mornings during a headstand, when I was focusing on staying upside down, instead of concentrating on staying outside in. How very absentminded of me. Or perhaps it was my self that was to blame. Maybe, it stealthily crept down the drain to escape my morning screeching in the shower. Gasp. What if it is more sinister? What if it was stolen from me? It could have been those two dodgy guys that day in the City Hall Annexe lift. They wore the look of people who were up to no good! Nobody would even have noticed. We were all too busy gasping and trying not to breathe in the over enthusiastic smell particles from someone’s baked bean breakfast. Or maybe…maybe it was kidnapped by a pair of vodka drinking, sunglass toting, bearded Armenian gangsters with silent s’s in their names. What if one morning I would wake up to a ransom note stuck together from old issues of Taifa Leo saying;

‘We have your self. 1 million dollars. Or we kill your self. Slowly. With hot mercury tipped needles, an old rusty saw and boiled cabbage’

Or worse, I would receive a DVD, which when I put into my computer, would have a blurry image and the shaky terrified voice of my self coughing, crying and hiccupping all at once, the words barely audible;

‘Please. Just give them what they want. I can’t take it anymore. There is country music. And boiled cabbage. …’ and the video would end right there. Static.

I suppose what really irked me is after dropping such a lofty statement, I expected some sort of advice on how one goes about finding oneself. Was there a formula? A technique? A ritual? A choice between the blue pill or red pill? A bottle with either ‘drink me’ or ‘eat me’ on it? Oranges or Bananas? Something? Anything? Please?  No. Instead I got that vacant look you get from a man who has stopped listening and is channelling all his brain power into looking awake…and miserably failing.

I wondered, and seriously this time, where had I lost myself. How do I get back to that place where I was last me? Would I know when I got there?

A few days ago I escaped to Elementaita to a charming place called Pink Lake Man Ecolodge, to try and write a musical. That part is a story for another day. On this trip, I armed myself with the writer’s ultimate procrastination tools; books. After reading an excerpt online, I had ordered Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost with an uncle of mine who had come down from Canada. I made myself a cup of coffee, got out my notebook and pen and prepared myself to write.  And then of course picked up the book.

It is a luscious read. Thought provoking, meandering, utterly gorgeous in its writing and with the sort of textured ideas that make me want to crunch them in my mouth. I found myself writing whole passages down in my notebook. She talks about getting lost, in place, in time, losing things, losing people, losing self. And then I remembered my friend Jefe’s words.

I thought about what he said as I lay back in the tiny hot springs that seeped into Lake Elementaita, the velvety soapy water lapping at the shore and coating my skin in a sheen that glistened when the cool breeze licked it. I let it swirl around my brain as I stared up at the night sky, the stars hiding under the opaque veil of bulbous mushroom clouds slowly trudging to Narok.

I thought about it as mosquitos noisily swarmed the light in protest after I switched on the torch to investigate (from a distance) the source of that loud grunt that sounded far too much like a hippo, and to look for my clothes so I would not be marked as The Muhindi Nightrunner of Elementaita.

I let it linger in the back of my mind on our drive back, as Edward’s easy conversation meandered, being interrupted only by the startled red eyes of nocturnal animals darting and dancing in the darkness.

I thought about it when sleep stole away at dawn that morning, before the sun could catch her in my bed, leaving a chill in her wake.

I thought about it as I wandered along the jagged edges of Lake Elementaita, listening to the sounds of the ground changing underneath me; from the crunch of thin clay that crackled under my feet like poppadum’s, to the squelch of mud where the lake still lingered, to the crisp cackle of snowflake shaped dried salt, to the hush of the grass speckled green and yellow like the eyes of a man I once loved. Still love.

I thought about it as I sat waiting for the flamingos to come back from their sudden departure when they had heard me coming, their feet skipping along the surface like winged ice skaters, necks elongated, wings spread wide in pink anticipation.

I thought about it as I waited for the sunset, the smell of an assortment of shit hovering around me; from the tiny coffee bean like pellets to the large, swirled meringue like paddy cakes.

I thought about it as I followed one silver ripple fold into the next, as the lake turned silvery like rolling silk, the wind blowing over it as if it thought we were at the ocean.

I thought about it when Peter left; the teenager with firewood on the back of his bike, who had interrupted my solitude with his quiet presence, which turned into a conversation about dreams. With a slight smile on his face, he told me he wanted to be a tour guide, and gave me an impromptu sampling of his skills as he explained the moods of the lake to me, then shyly raised his chin as he posed for a photograph.

I thought about it on my drive back home, as the rain beat down a rhythm on the bonnet of the car, and the trees grew taller, more slender, crowding each other and jostling for space.

I thought about it as I squinted to find my way on a road that was clouded over with puffs of fog.

 ‘He ceased to be lost not by returning, but by turning into something else’ – A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Thank you Jefe for believing more than I ever had the courage to.

#UnexpectedKenya – Follow the wonderful journeys of 5 Kenyan writers as they look for the unexpected in Kenya and often find the unexpected in themselves, just as I did in myself.

Biko – http://bikozulu.co.ke/the-shoe/

Magunga – http://www.magunga.com/unexpectedkenya-day-6-finding-a-sapeur/

Wanjeri – http://www.wanjeri.com/the-lake-and-other-stories/#more-1763

Rachael – http://www.safari254.com/unexpected-kenya-day-4/

Wamathai – http://www.hapakenya.com/museums-vibratings-cars-and-other-central-kenya-stories/

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