Lamu: Tortoise Coitus and Farting Yogis

It has been six years since I was last in Lamu and as I squeeze through the narrow alleys towards the house where I am being hosted, memories pop out at me from each corner. I had forgotten how specific Lamu town smells. The humidity in the area teases out an almost aromatic fragrance from the donkey dung scattered on uneven pathways. Surprisingly it isn’t unpleasant. The house I am staying in has a lush central garden that has become my view as I write. Every now and then the branches succumb to the flirtation of the breeze, and the garden sways littering delicate white frangipanis on to the deep brown soil.

Periodically the air is punctuated with the heavy grunts and alarming hisses of the randy tortoises who seem to spend every few hours copulating. Tortoise coitus is alarming. He mounts her and visibly thrusts, his neck getting longer and straining, and his face contorting in an expression that is very disturbing in how human like it is. Animals mate, they don’t make love. You expect it to be perfunctory, almost business like. These two tortoises are at it a lot, but I think she has finally had enough. This morning as I scoop up the hot bahazi with the still warm mahamri, he mounts her and she tries to get away. She crawls towards the garden. Still mounted he follows. It looks like he is steering her. She keeps walking. He keeps following. I feel a wave of inexplicable anguish wash over me. She must feel so helpless trying to get away from him, and he won’t get off her, his weight on her body reminding her that she is trapped to his will. I get an unwanted peek at his jewels. It is much bigger than I thought it would be and waves around like a palm tree branch in the wind. I suddenly lose my appetite for breakfast.

Lamu is a noisy place. There is a gujurati phrase, which when translated loses its lightness, everyone lives in each other’s armpits. The houses are built in a way in which everything is amplified, and you have to get used to the forced intimacy of sounds creeping into your space. This morning at 2:00am a baby coughed and I awoke. I lay in bed listening to the comforting of a mother’s cooing and wondering if I will ever wake up at 2:00am to the sound of my own baby coughing. Yesterday the loud taarab music that seemed to be playing from a loudspeaker within the neighbourhood suddenly switched to 70s Bollywood music, and just like that I was snatched from a balmy Lamu afternoon and spat into my dad’s car somewhere in Voi on a road trip to Mombasa. But without a doubt the most striking sound of all is the loud Adhan that pierces the air every couple of hours. I have never lived in a place where Islam is so interwoven into the day, and the call to prayer fills me with an inexplicable peace that my body had lost the memory of.

Yesterday evening after a full day of writing, needing to stretch out my spine, we wandered down to a little cafeteria behind which a yoga class was taking place. The average age of the mostly mzungu students at the class was 75, and that was after you had accounted for myself and two Swahili women in their late thirties. The teacher, a taut man named Kelly, tapped at his ipad to play the pre-loaded tracks of indian chanting whilst he led a gentle class that comprised mostly of stretches. The end of the class saw us in happy baby pose, where you lie down on your back, legs up in the air, knees bent, hands clutching your feet as you roll around. As we lay on our backs and spread our legs up to the air, it started. Loud ones, staccato ones, shrill ones, squeaky ones, hissing ones. One by one, the orchestra of farts sputtered out into the air from the tired bowels of the elderly yogis. And the most astounding thing of all, is that not a single person laughed. There was nary a giggle. We all acted as if we had just experienced an onset of temporary deafness, and continued wiggling around in happy baby pose.

As I lay awake waiting to hear the Adhan at dawn, I thought about the farting yogis, and why the rest of us innately understood how important it was to preserve their dignity and pretend we hadn’t heard the litany of flatulence. A memory popped into my head of my grandma a few weeks ago when I lay in bed next to her. Her brain had gone back into a familiar loop, and as she does every Sunday, she commented on how beautiful my teeth were, and asked how I had managed to transform them considering how dreadful they were before. My teeth are not great, but they have never been dreadful. Her brain has constructed some story about them which she has fixated upon for the last several years, which every time we are together forces its way to the front of her brain comes out in the exact same way, every time.

This time she went to touch her own teeth for emphasis, but when her fingers met only gum, her eyes filled with alarm. When I asked her what was wrong, she wailed, ‘they are gone, they are gone, they are gone’. I am not proud to say this, but a giggle popped out of my mouth.

‘What would you do if you woke up one morning to find you had no teeth?’

She looked at me aghast.

My laughter had poked her already tenuous sense of dignity, at an age where the structural integrity of your dignity is entirely reliant on the people around you playing along.

And I had broken the rules.

MY MUSE RAN AWAY WITH OBAMA

It was 4:18 am and the studio at the office had taken on the dazed stillness of people concentrating on concentrating. Warren G’s Regulator played in the background and provided an oddly comforting soundtrack at a time of night when sanity had started to wane. Everybody was tired. The once dirty jokes had now become merely a little dusty, and as the only woman in an all male studio, I have to admit I was quite relieved. I craved a salted caramel hot chocolate, but settled for sun salutations in advance of sunrise, in the hope that they would wedge out the knifelike pain that had deposited itself below my shoulder blades.

In the middle of a downward dog, I was struck with a thought that seemed rather profound given the pre-dawn hour of 4:23 am. Those pithy quotes attributed to world leaders that we see pasted against a ubiquitous sunrise probably came from some poor writer simply trying to wring out a living. Indeed at that moment in time, somewhere in the world there were other over caffeinated writers hunched over computers, grunting away, engaged in the labour of birthing a piece of writing that they would have to hand over to someone else to take out into the world. Just like me. With Obama’s upcoming visit to Kenya, my every moment had been hijacked to produce the Choose Kenya campaign which would be running in the lead up to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit being hosted in Nairobi.

And with this realisation, the ghosts of ghost writers past came swooping into the room, wailing litanies of unfinished novels, poetry collections, short story anthologies, musicals and scripts that they had laid to rest in the graveyard of abandoned dreams. I could see the skeletons of these pieces of writing rolling around restlessly, clattering and moaning at being trapped in their coffins. The ghosts spurred me on. I was not writing to sell decoders or fertilisers. This was an opportunity for me to write copy that I believed in. Something that people may really connect to, identify with, see themselves in. Something too that would be pasted on photoshopped sunrises to be shared endlessly in annoying whatsapp groups or recited at the beginning of high school debating club speeches. Maybe even literature….ok, too far.

And so I wrote my little pulsing exhausted heart out. Even though I would be pouring my heart into words that I knew would be poured out of the mouth of an administration that I have my issues with, I remembered that Kenya is more than the government, more than politicians, more than beautiful landscapes. It is us. And so I wrote it for us. With the memory of growing up in the 90s and running into shops to escape the tear gas, I wrote it to acknowledge how far we have come. And with the recent memory of school children being tear gassed still fresh in my mind, I wrote it to remind us of the stakes and how easy it is to slip back. When I was done, through the deceptive filter of sleep deprivation, I stepped back and surveyed what I had written. I was pleased. It was honest. It was drenched in soul. It was true to who we are and sincere in intention.

And so I went to bed and dreamed that Obama and I shared pizza on the eve of the Summit.

The next day I faced the dreaded Creative Director. The piece needed severe editing if it was going to fit into the time allocated for the ad. With my fluorescent magenta pen I got to work. With every snip, I felt the nuance of the piece withering up and the soul getting sucked out of it. With very word I mutilated and every line I decapitated, my heart bled in fluorescent magenta stains all over the paper. By the time I had finished, the page looked like a crime scene. My beautiful heartfelt script had been crudely chopped up and my multi-layered narrative had been forced into the very single story that I had been resisting.

You see that piece was disproportionately important to me. But, despite it being flawed, I was proud that it evoked a sense of pride of who we are as Kenyans, which is something we tend to only feel in times of celebration or devastation. One of my favourite things about Kenyans is our perpetual dissatisfaction with the status quo. The politics. The traffic. The corruption. The education system. The health sector. There is always a keen sense that things are not good enough, that we have to do better, can be better. And yet against the backdrop of what it feels like to be Kenyan over the last several years, and the exhaustion of helplessness that you feel at the perpetual mess surrounding us, the truth is that we have come far. And we continue to stride. It is important to me that we acknowledge that. Not to the world. But to ourselves. Sometimes it seems we are trapped in the same single narrative about ourselves, that we push back against with the world. Ironically, we aren’t very good at seeing our own nuances.

So yes.  The Kenya we have is very far away from the Kenya we want. And there are wonderful things about us. And there are not so wonderful things about us. And this can all exist at the same time. And acknowledging one doesn’t vanish the existence of the other. I think perhaps we need to live more in the land of ‘ands’ and less in the land of ‘buts.’ And if you want to see the piece I am talking about writing, it is here.

So Obama came. And he left. And my muse ran away with him. As you may have noticed, I haven’t written for the blog in months. The thing with the advertising industry is that it demands everything from you. The industry is wrapped up in a glossy veneer of glamour and urgency that is designed to trick you into feeling like what you do really matters. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t really. But like many creatives, I need to believe my work matters for me to be able to give it my all. And I need to give my all to my work to feel like what I do really matters. So this self-perpetuating cycle can leave you with very little for yourself at the end of the day. And four months later you are sitting in Lamu in a state of sheer panic that maybe you can’t ever do non-advertising writing again.

I keep reminding myself of a lesson that I learned before but clearly have not been paying attention to. It is important to give your heart to the work that you do, but remember to keep the juiciest parts for yourself, and most of all be careful not to forget it behind when you leave work.

I have sent myself on a forced five day leave to Lamu to write. Perhaps the taarab music, fragrant frangipanis, fresh fresh and the echoing of the adhan will lure my muse back. If not, I shall write without her anyway.

Dissecting Love

You have acquired this habit of examining love, having become distrustful lately of a thing whose workings you cannot understand. You see, if you can just figure out what love is, how it works, what makes it tick, what feeling denotes what reality, then you will know how much to trust it, what to do with it, how much of your heart you can allocate to it.

You think about the appropriate analogy for this dissecting of love. Play with the idea of performing sanitized autopsies of loves gone past. Slicing through tender flesh with steady handed precision, prodding at hardened arteries with deposits from hurts gone past. Hair trapped in a net, elbows deep in latex gloves, your mask puffs out every time you sing the words to Daudi Kabaka’s Pole Musa playing in the operating theatre. But just as you are about to reach the pulsating centre of flesh that may house the secrets of love’s inner workings, it strikes you that autopsies are only performed on the dead, and love is still very much alive.

So instead you doodle in your black moleskine notebook with the fluorescent pink pen that lends whimsy to the heaviest of topics, and you draw boxes and arrows and circle things furiously.

You land on four possible types of love. You pass on these theories to your best friend, the most discerning one, the sensible one with wisdom in her smile and mischief in her eyes. She spreads some green tomato chutney on a cracker, layers it with soft goats cheese, and pauses to hmmm before she crunches it in her mouth. It is a hmmmm of recognition. It strikes you how old you have both become. Love used to be simple. You felt it. You know you were in it. Now, it seems so complicated, so layered, so charged with agenda and masked with illusion.

You lay the four types of love out on a table, arrange them delicately and with care, the same way you used to play with your mother’s jewellery. An attempt to put beauty into order. Most of all, you do it to exorcise previous avatars of love. Name them. Shame them. Dispel them so they dissolve into whiffs of non-existence.

You think you are in love with him. You were a little in love with him before you even met him. He dripped with charm, the kind that made you want to be smarter, wittier, worthy of the banter he threw your way. But it was how he did what he did that crawled under your skin. You have always been intoxicated by men at the peak of their game. And he was that. He combined understated passion with intense skill and a disarming humility that kept him hungry, just a sliver of the insecure peeking through in conversations. Every now and then he would show you a whisker of vulnerability, and that is when you felt it. That thing. Because it was like he was giving you a glimpse of a part of himself that nobody else in the world had access to. And that was enough of the carrot for you to be kept hanging on. And so in the throes of your encounters, you almost didn’t notice how his eyes darted to the ass of the girl who walked by. Every time. Every girl. And the charm grew old once you realized it wasn’t reserved for just you. Instead it poured out for everyone he met. You see men like that can never belong to one person, they belong to the world.

But then he would ensnare you again with the way he articulated life, the certainty with which he had its nuances figured out, even if they didn’t align with yours. There was something undeniably sexy about such certainty, especially contrasted with your utter wishy washy flakiness viewpoints on life, where everything was changeable, nothing black and white, just large swathes of grey. So you, a self confessed feminist, fell in love with a misogynist.

And then you realize you aren’t in love with him honey. You just want to be him. How’s that for a twist?

You think you are in love with him. You listen to cheesy love songs on the radio and feel like you have finally been let into an exclusive club, that you now know the secret handshake. The delicious texts that you receive first thing in the morning and last thing in the night mean that to someone you are their first and last thought. The fact that you save them more for what they represent, than what they actually say doesn’t ring warning bells. Imagine, all around you there are people walking around this world, sitting in their cars, working at their desks, floating over life in a mist of this emotion, feeling this way all the time. How have you existed this long without this feeling in your life?

You spend a lot of time in the future. When the possibility of what could be, somehow outweighs the pleasure of what is now. When you imagine the things that will happen for you, the way your life will look like now that you are in love, it is almost always backed by a soundtrack, accompanied with lush cinematography and a fan to blow the hair off your face. As if you were the heroine of your own romantic comedy. You want to tell everybody about this newfound love of yours, as if somehow if it isn’t heard and acknowledged by other human beings, it isn’t actually real. And when you do declare it, you have a practiced smug content obnoxious grin that crawls over your face. Except you can’t for the life of you figure out what it is you love about this person. Just that he exists. And that for now is enough.

You aren’t in love with him honey. You are just in love with the idea of being in love.

You think you are in love with him.  It creeps up on you stealthily. At first it’s hot and furious, and you use up all your charm very quickly, doling it out in supersize portions, not bothering to ration some for later. Predictably you soon run dry. And he still sticks around. Still seems excited to have you around. You soak up the things he says to you, hoard them like little nuggets of deliciousness that you can draw on, and suck out the goodness from later. You feel floaty, like nothing bad can stick to you, it just slides off, like water off raw potato covered windscreens  at the drive-in during the rainy season. When he holds you, you close your eyes and concentrate on the feeling of skin touching skin imbuing caring and desire and want.

And this time when the texts arrive, their meaning is what you cling onto. The words becoming etched and carved onto the spongy surface of your brain, deeper and deeper, the typed out words shrugging off any ownership from the person. You see at that moment in time, it doesn’t matter who is doing the loving. You are loved. My God you are loved. It comes from a space of emptiness this sort of love, a filling of a gaping hole. As if you could plug the crack in your wall with carbon monoxide. It is a pitiful, egotistic kind of love, the type that takes advantage of vulnerability and speeds away with your dignity. Before you know it, you are knee deep in a love that you don’t own, but a love that has claimed ownership over your emotions. And for what it makes you feel, you are grateful,

You aren’t in love with him honey. You are just in love with feeling loved.

You think you are in love with him. Across unreasonable circumstances, your hurt found his hurt, recognized it, wrapped its tentacles around it and oozed thick sticky honey love, coating it with comfort and kindness. You found his nooks and crannies, his tunnels and crevices, and filled them with a languorous urgency that took his breath away. You made him feel things he thought he had banished from his heart a long time ago. And when he smiles, the sparkle in his eyes, boyish, peeking out from the veil of arrogant assuredness, takes your breath away. It is addictive, watching this effect on him. You can see him visibly softening. You feel like you are smoothening his edges like the ocean does to the jaggedness of shells.

He tells you what it is that you do to him, and you swell with accomplishment that you could make another human being feel this way. Your heart smiles that his heart smiles. You feel special. Unique even. Like this is your purpose in life. You have this special untapped power that you did not know about, and suddenly it becomes more important than anything else in the world. Because perhaps this is the only person in the world who is programmed to respond to you in this way, and to waste it would be to go against nature’s design. Cause and Response. It is science really. And when he looks at you like that, like you are the most important person in the world, how you feel about him is but a side effect really.

You aren’t in love with him honey. You are just in love with being able to make someone so happy.

So what is love? Hush honey, and just feel…..

In love via photopin (license)Photo 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

Becoming an African

In the underground tunnels of Montreal I start becoming an African. I join other sandaled tropical brethren as we roam the belly of the city, there where it is warm and heated, where buskers play rhythms that awake the taste of nostalgia in our mouth. Where the sun doesn’t reach us, but the heat doesn’t leak out. It is the winter of discoveries. It is colder in Montreal than Siberia. Snot freezes. It is possible for it to be too cold to snow. If you leave the house with wet hair, your locks can snap off like a dry twig.

And like other shivering Africans, I discover that downtown Montreal is connected by a sprawling of tunnels, so when the city grows icy tentacles, us Africans descend beneath, emerging only at our destination, rarely venturing beyond its radius. Except of course when Angelique Kidjo comes to town. I miss home. I need to feel home.  Benin will do. I can’t find anyone to come with me, so I bundle myself up and head to the wrong end of St. Laurent. It is -40 degrees Celcius, and it looks like God pressed the fast forward button on the city. Everyone moves quickly, dashing into heated shops every few blocks to warm up, before continuing their journey. Only their eyes are visible. I know I am moving because objects keep getting closer, but I can’t feel my legs. I enter the club, peel off my layers, my body tingling as it adjusts to the temperature, and I sit down. There are fifty other people in this club. For Angelique Kidjo. I feel ashamed. I must show her how she is loved. And I do. We do. She whips us up into a frenzy of movement, dancing on chairs, tables, falling into each other’s arms. For the first time in months, I feel hot.

My new friends introduce me as their African friend. I am from Africa. Ergo I must be African. It sounds odd. At home, in my community, the term African is often a crude non-derogatory reference to mean black. It has never occurred to me that I am an African. My British Prep Schooling has determinedly erased any possible idea of an African identity in me. I have not had a single lesson on African or even Kenyan history, literature or geography. Instead I sang ‘Hip Hip Hoorah for the Jolly Good Fellows’ after a Rounders match, before we settled down to cucumber sandwiches. This is criminal. It is unacceptable for a child to be educated in a country and be taught nothing about that country. I don’t care what the educational system is. So when my Canadian friends ask me to take them to an African restaurant, I have no idea what to order. Ethiopian Restaurants save me from shame.

Even in this cold white city, I feel less African than the West Africans. They are so loudly African. Everything about them yells African. Their accents, their clothes, their music, their mannerisms. Us Kenyans are much more discretely African. I feel a little like an imposter. As if I should apologise to my Canadian friends for not being African enough. I don’t really even count as the token African. Maybe the token ethnic person.

But the cold binds us together, us Africans from the East and West. The university sets up a room for us. They warn us about the depressive effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly named SAD. Something to do with not getting the light that our bodies are used to down at the equator. We are to visit this room every morning and sit under these alien-esque lamps. The room gives me that desperate feeling I get from Casinos. And it is still cold. I discover a more elegant solution. Granted, the receptionist looks at me a little strangely when she hands over the bright orange goggles. Perhaps she doesn’t see many people my skin colour frequenting the tanning salon. I strip off my clothes, put on the crinkly paper underwear, lie down and lower the lid of the tanning bed over my body. And I feel it. Warmth right into my bones. For the first time in months. With my eyes closed, I imagine that I am at the beach in Mombasa, ignoring the beach boys and sipping on Madafu. My family never quite understand why I seem to come home from winter with a full body tan.

During the day, I join other Africans at our African Development Class, rolling our eyes at the saviour complex that is stinking up the lecture hall, unaware of our own that seeps out like a silent fart. We Nkt! over a new awareness we have of white privilege, for now, we remain ignorant of our privilege. At night I seek comfort in the dodgy African club where I am guaranteed they will play Magic System’s Premier Gaou at least once in the night. My brown Kenyan ass shakes to lingala. I feel home. I go every week, until one day a fight breaks out, and jagged beer bottles fly across the smoky room oblivious to who they hit. That night I crawl out of the club on my hands and knees, avoiding what looks like blood on the dance floor.

I can’t find any Kenyans to be Kenyan with. So I will be African with the Africans.

Then I go back home. I stop being an African. I go back to being a Kenyan.  I behave like a Nairobian.

Years later in a shop in Mumbai, the greasy attendant refers to me as an African, and it throws me off. I had forgotten that I am. His words remain with me as I sit in traffic watching young couples huddle by the ocean, their silhouettes in the smoggy haze betraying a physical intimacy that I am surprised to see in public in India. The streets look oddly familiar. As if you could be in Kisumu, where when you cast your eyes above the first floor, the buildings still have a certain colonial patina that has yet to be painted over by mobile phone branding. My sister remarks that so much of the greenery reminds her of Nairobi. We wonder what traces our forefathers have left of themselves in the landscaping of Kenya. I remember my grandfather telling me about how the Jambura or Zambrau trees can only be found along the railway line, where Indian workers and traders planted them to remind them of home. He tells us this story as he buys Jambura by the bucket load, marinating them in a sprinkling of salt, and delighting in the sweet tart flesh of this purple berry.

As the sun sets in Mumbai, we wander out on to the crowded beach. On the other end of the Ocean lies Kenya. I wonder what it must have been like for my forefathers getting on the dhows that would take them to a foreign land. In a time when the world was still unfamiliar. When they had no idea what life would be like where they were going. What would the houses be like. What language did the people speak. What did they eat. Back, when google did not exist. What did my ancestors carry in the bags that they clasped close to their bodies as they boarded the boats for the journey that would last months. Did they think they would ever see India again? I sometimes forget they were economic migrants, looking for a better life for themselves and their children. And so it makes sense that when they arrived in this new land, they tried their best to re-create the sense of home they left. They were not interested in being Kenyan. Or African. They were just Indians in Kenya simply looking to lead a better life.

And so I imagine my forefathers would be rather amused by this discovery of mine.  That I am an African.

I also think they would have gotten a kick out of the fact that Chanyado has been nominated for Best New Blog in this year’s Kenyan Blog Awards. There are only two days left to vote, so if you haven’t already, please do vote here, and spread the word. You don’t have to be Kenyan to vote. Of course I would be utterly delighted if you voted for Chanyado. It would be nice to win.

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

(If you like it over here in the shade, do vote for Chanyado for Best New Blog at the Blog Awards Kenya – to vote, go here: http://www.blogawards.co.ke/vote/)

Murdering Pain

Her pain gets in the way of things. It creeps past the shadow of the moonlight and strides into her dreams, stealing the spotlight and demanding an encore. It intrudes upon conversations, pinching syllables and leaking out into her stuttering pauses. It barges into her office, pocketing her focus and racing away with it like a desperate shoplifter. Most of all, it hovers over her like a buzzing fly waiting to feast on her festering wounds

So she tries to murder it.

She smothers it with cold hard mandazis at midnight, trying to fill the big gaping pit in her heart with leftover sugar and fried dough. But her pain hides, it peeks out from the growing bulge that spills out over the top her mitumba skirt.

She tries to paint over its existence with lipstick too expensive for her to afford; a bright red bought from the cosmetics shelf at Tuskys, one that will cover up her bitten lips. But the pain won’t let her scarlet smile reach her eyes.

She tries to make it drowsy with sleeping pills from the little brown sachet that Mama Kevo gave her, praying for a dreamless night. But the pain didn’t fit into the bags underneath her eyes, and so even as they disappear, pain coats her eyes with a filter of hardness.

She tries to overpower its potency with beauty. Bunches of bright pink bougainvillea from her fence stuffed into empty coke bottles and scattered strategically in corners throughout the house. A red and yellow flowered khanga bought from her skinny Congolese tailor, with the message Bora maisha; mengine ni majaliwa on the border. Daudi Kabaka filling the living room air with his sweet voice and songs from a time when life skipped instead of dragging. But the stench of pain remains, like a piece of dog shit stuck on her shoe.

She tries to squeeze it out of her spine, pushing her curved back and shoulders into a defiant straightness, thrusting out breasts that lost their sag from breastfeeding three children. But her pain dissolves into a million little particles and hides in the hemoglobin of her blood, making her heart beat faster and taking charge of her blood pressure.

In every way she tries to kill it, it finds new places to hide. Her pain is a shape shifter. And it will never go away. Because she had to bury her child. A daughter who died whilst giving life.

So now, she will teach her orphaned grandchildren how to hide the pain of growing up without their mother. Because she realizes that there are some pains that can never be killed. These children will grow up in this world carrying their pain around with them like little invisible rucksacks on their backs. They may get used to the weight, to the bulk, but they will never be able to shed the load.

Every day in Kenya, 26 women die from complications of childbirth and pregnancy. With the right care, many of these deaths can be prevented by trained midwives. You have a role that you can play. On March 28th 2015, join us from 8:00am at the Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary, as we walk away the pain to Save a Mum with Chase Group Foundation. Every step you take, will go towards training new midwives in rural Kenya, and improving access to pre-natal care.

Register here or visit any Chase Bank or Rafiki Branch and Select Innscore (Pizza Inn) or Big Square Outlets. Or give them a call on 0730 175 000 | 0709 800 00,  Whatsapp on 0773 758196,  Email at: foundation@chasebank.co.ke

In a world filled with so much pain already, we must do our best to lessen it. With love. With caring. Together. And as we walk, we will feel the breeze kiss our faces, listen to the trees whispering and the birds chuckling, and we will probably feel grateful to be alive, and that we have the ability to  do something to help give life to others.

Photo Credit

Dip Tea in Mumbai

‘The whole of Nairobi is ours.’

The hairy-toed man with orange hennaed floppy hair declares. He stands on a round platform on top of the shop counter.

I am having difficulty taking him seriously right now, because his left hip is thrust out and he has an exquisite brushed gold Parisian lace sari wrapped around his skinny waist. With his silver ringed fingers, he expertly folds the pleats, tucks them into the waistband of his trousers, and then gives me a self satisfied Paan stained smile. At his feet are piles and piles of saris glittering at me from a ceiling mirror that’s been installed to help customers see the 6 metre long sari in all its glory.

We are in one of the multi storeyed sari shops in Mumbai and I am irritated. It is hot. We have been there for hours. I feel like if I see one more sequin, I might throw up all over his hairy toes. He senses this, and immediately orders for tea. Maybe he figures all this lace has lowered my blood sugar levels. This is a common tactic in sari shops. The moment they see you fidgeting, they order tea. If they notice your stamina is wavering, they order little chilly vegetable sandwiches. If they sense you are getting bored, they order airtime bundles. They basically do everything in their power to make you comfortable so that you have no excuse to leave their premises before making a purchase.

I have always thought, Kenyan businesses could learn a thing or two from sari shops in Mumbai. Often, the most I can look forward to here, is a shrug of the shoulders and a stifled ‘shauri yako.’

When the young boy returns, he places the tray on the counter, and announces,

‘Dip Tea Ma’am. Just for you.’

Hmmm. The cup has a string hanging out. I give this young boy the side eye. This does not look like chai, but its weaker cousin from the Kingdom masquerading as tea. I had been looking forward to the sweet, dark, hot, cardamom infused velvety cup of comfort to make this whole ordeal bearable. Instead my foreign accent must have made him think my palette needed the ‘exotic’ tea bag tea. Ironically, the ‘Dip Tea’ was a big deal, reserved only for special customers.

By this time, without us noticing, the prices of the saris he is showing us has gradually inched up. In between pulling out yards of brocade and cutwork and net and satin, he boasts about how all of Nairobi buys from his shop, which has several branches, each with several floors. Of course, this isn’t his shop. He is merely the opener.

There appears to be a strict hierarchy when it comes to the salesman at sari shops. There are the openers; sweet-talking flamboyant charmers whose job it is to shock and awe, pulling out sari after sari from the shelves and unfolding them so you can see ‘the work.’ All I can think of is, who is going to fold all those saris? But of course, there is a person whose job it is to do specifically this. ‘Beta’ which means son, has this delightful job, and Beta is normally a youngish boy probably at apprentice level. There seems to be a real culture of mentorship within these structures. Beta is basically their bitch. But their job is to teach Beta all the dubious tricks of the trade that is selling saris to every possible kind of woman. Beta also functions as a model. You see, if you really can’t be bothered to try the sari on, you just sit there, sipping your tea with your pinkie pointing out, as they drape the sari on this young boy, Beta who then swishes down a fake runway until you are satisfied. Then there is the closer; this one is deadly. He doesn’t take no for an answer, and by then you have been so worn down by the openers, Beta and endless cups of sweet tea, that even the sari that looks like a mosquito net from a house in Kabuchai seems like a worthy one of a kind investment. It is odd that in a city where the male gaze is so strong, every salesperson I have encountered in a sari shop is a man, and as rows of women crane at mirrors to see if their backsides look too big, they do so oblivious to the obvious male gaze.

We leave that shop and head to another, grabbing a samosa sandwich with a side of pickled cabbage from a street vendor, whose questionable hygiene I will pay a very dear price for in the coming days.

The next shop is slicker. It doesn’t have the aged patina of the last family owned chain. This one has smooth white surfaces, tall sexy mirrors and long leather sofas arranged in cubicles around your very own stage. On the sofa to my left, a young woman is asked what her budget is. She says,

‘One thousand.’

I feel sorry for her. There is no sari she is getting for one thousand rupees. The salesman asks,

‘Pounds yes?’

She replies,

‘that is the starting point, but I need to buy my whole trousseau.’

I do the math. Say ten outfits in a trousseau, each at a thousand pounds, makes it 10,000 pounds or 1.3 million shillings! Bloody brits ruining the prices for us Kenyans! She is quickly whisked away to the High Rollers room, and I try to catch glimpses of what a thousand pound sari looks like. The door opens only to let in tray after tray of delicious smelling food. I stop myself from yelling, ‘She’s a bride damnit. Don’t you know that species do not eat. Bring the food this way!’

Our opener is watching my flabbergastion (I am making up this a word, because that is precisely what it was) with amusement. He tells me that 90% of their business is from Non Resident Indians (NRIs) or diaspora, and that would be the same for most of the shops in the area. And they spend a lot of money in a very short period of time, so this goings-on in the VIP room that has my jaw affixed to the ground, is as common a scene as traffic jams are in Nairobi. Of course it makes sense. Indian weddings are a big deal, and amplified by Bollywood and a booming fashion scene, the industry has extended its French manicured claws all over the world.

Kenyans. Kenyans. Kenyans. Surely. Imagine! I am speechless. Look at how cleverly India has crafted this industry to seduce their diasporans to return and part with huge chunks of cash. Yaani. What can we come up with here in Kenya to lure our diasporans to come back home to bolster the economy, spend their cash and leave with a little piece of something precious from home. And land is the most unimaginative answer you can give here. What else can we create? I am leaving this one here.

As my brain whirrs at the magnitude of the figures he has tossed out at me, on the sofa to my right, an elderly woman is skyping from her phone, showing her sister in Chicago the sari she wants to buy. It is really ugly. Baby poop coloured net with garish gold flowers. I want to whisper in her ear, ‘honey, it is horrific,’ but her sister ooooohs across the phone, and I leave them to their bad taste.

As for me. I couldn’t resist the brushed gold Parisian lace silk sari.

P.s. Thank you all for your love letters filled with kind words. If you missed my inebriated last post, Chanyado has been nominated for best new blog at the Blog Awards Kenya. Show us some love by voting here : http://www.blogawards.co.ke/vote/

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EEEEEEEKS!

For purposes of full disclosure, I admit I am a little post-wine hazy. And I get sentimental when I have been drinking red wine. It makes me want to write love letters; long rambling intimate winding lush love letters. So I am writing this one to you.

First let’s get into the mood. You know when the evening mellows and you get comfortable with where the night is heading. You are surrounded by great company and any jagged edges have been blurred out by a lightness. The day falls off your shoulders and wit rolls off your tongue. You lose track of time and get lost in sparkly conversation. Then your favourite song comes on and you lose your shit! There is shrieking. And dragging of friends to the dance floor. And forgetting that you are in a public place. And wearing heels. And that people have phones that can record things and put them up online.

I went too far…. back to that favourite song moment. There is a bizarre, completely disproportionately sized euphoria in that moment. Yesterday morning I had one of those. I woke up, went to the Bloggers Association of Kenya website to check the nominations for the Blog Awards and scrolled down the list with one eye open. It’s weird how we do that. As if the magnitude of disappointing news will be halved if you only see it with one eye. There it was! Lil ol us, Chanyado nominated for Best New Blog. I lost my shit. Shrieked. Did a jig. Thankfully I was not in a public space and there were no recording devices.

You see, when you start a blog you don’t really believe anyone will read it. Well, maybe your family; your mother out of maternal obligation and your siblings because you stand over them and threaten bodily harm if they don’t. You obsessively look at the back end of your blog and experience real delight when your view count goes from 5 to 6. Somehow, slowly, your view count starts to hit double digits, and you think gosh, real non-related-to-you human beings are reading your writing of their own free will. That is a giddy feeling my friends. Positively heady. Then someone shares it. THEY SHARE IT! They want other people to read it. You are now in unicorn hopping over double rainbow territory. It is a little unbelievable. You fight the urge to stop them and ask if they are sure that’s what they intended to do.

Not that it is all melted cheese and Maroon 5 songs. On my very first piece, someone calling themselves ‘JustBeingHonest’ commented:

Excruciating to read! It seems the readers who have commented before me either know you personally and just want to encourage you by giving false praise or perhaps it’s just that they cannot discriminate between something that’s written tastefully and something that’s not. You can do SO much better. Do something better with your time. Please stop.

I wanted to curl up in corner in the the foetal position and rock myself as I wept. Not only did they leave this withering remark, they felt impassioned enough about their opinion to create a special email address specifically to leave this comment. The email address was ‘Justbeinghonest@xxxxxxx.com. Then I thought, you know what ‘JustBeingHonest’ I will show you! Ridiculous. As if I had something to prove to ‘JustBeingHonest’. And every post I wrote, I thought, oh dear. Maybe that’s all I got. What if I have only a finite amount of words in me to be written, and I have exhausted them all. But I would sit and write because of you. Because you read what I wrote. You were my kryptonite. Stop rolling your eyes. This is a love letter. I am allowed the occasional cheesy line. And let me tell you something. There is no greater gift in all the universe for a writer, than to have someone read their work. I can’t tell you how much it means. To allow yourself to be swept up into someone else’s world. There is true generosity in that.

I think us bloggers are a spoiled lot. Novelists and writers in the pre-internet era would slog for years, typing away, creating vast worlds, pouring their lives onto pages, drowning their insecurities, ignoring their families, ruining their posture and rotting their teeth with coffee and vodka, to create a piece of work which may or may not be published, and may or may not be read by anyone. It would take years for them to receive any mass feedback, any sense of how people were responding to this labour of love they gave their years to. Us bloggers, we write, we post and within minutes we know what people think. It is addictive that instant response. You start itching for your next fix. So in a sense, you are my drug, that hit that makes my body tingle and my brain vibrate.

And you live in over 141 countries. Living in Nairobi, writing about one Kenyan’s life, it astounds me that people all over the world read Chanyado. Who are you? How did you find us? Why do you keep coming back? I think about you when I am sitting in traffic, watching the city wake up and trying to remain calm amidst the chaos of Matatus skittering by. As I sit staring at the asses of cars, I wonder, what is your view over there in Curacao? Is it all sandy beaches and blue skies, or are you cursing at some idiot cutting you off as well.  As I sit in the stifling heat of a February midday in Nairobi, I think, what sort of day did you have over there in Serbia?

And I wonder about some of you who leave footprints in the shade of Chanyado. To the lady who left me a note at the end of ‘Closing the Book’, saying that you read it soaking in the tub in the aftermath of a separation from your child’s father, I hope it was a bubble bath and there were scented candles, because you need to feed your soul pleasure from wherever you can. And I hope there was no one else in the house, so you could wail and break down into the kind of ugly hiccupping that your body needs to purge it of the sobs it needs to expunge.

I never know which pieces you are going to like. The ones I really love seem to just plop undramatically into the ether. There are others that catch some sort of public sentiment and whizz around. Those ones frighten me. Because there is only so much that you can communicate in 1000 words. And people inevitably think they know all of you that there is to know from those 1000 words. But you have taught me, you can only be responsible for what you write, not for what others read.

A few of you come by Chanyado accidentally. And judging by some of the search terms that get you here, I hope you are sorely disappointed by what you find. These search terms can be very specific:

‘a clip of a indian woman wearing a sari who is seducing a young boy shaving his beard’

How, please tell me how, that led you to Chanyado! Also, please tell me what is with this obsession with women in sarees releasing their bladders?

The wine is fading and I feel myself becoming more self-conscious about this love letter that seemed like a brilliant idea a while ago. What I really wanted to say, is thank you. For reading, for caring, for sharing, for supporting.

I checked out our competition in the Best New Blog category and they all are rather beautiful. I feel a like we got caught on camera before we had time to brush our hair and make sure our shirt was not inside out. Voting is open for the next two months even for those who live outside of Kenya. If you like it over here in the shade, please do vote. (Even you, Mr ‘sunburned fanny photo.’) Tell your friends, relatives, nosy neighbours, that smelly stranger in the matatu reading this over your shoulder.

The link to vote is here: http://www.blogawards.co.ke/vote/ – there are some fabulous blogs also nominated, so take some time to wander around the other categories.

Regular non-inebriated programming continues next week.

Shukran.

Photo Credit

Save a Mum

My ovaries are giving me the silent treatment. I can feel them glaring at me. Giving me The Look. I catch snippets of their quiet accusations, ‘utterly disappointed’ and ‘wasted potential’ and ‘why do we even bother.’  I get it. Every month they fulfil their part of their bargain, with much drama, I should add. They aren’t quiet performers. They believe in grand entrances. And yet the next month rolls around and I have not delivered. Again. So they let out a big sigh and get to work. They are the perpetual long suffering bridesmaids, plastering on smiles as they brace themselves to catch the bouquet. You see, we really want children, my ovaries and I. Actually we want children more than anything else in the world. Anything. I say ‘we’ because it comforts me. Makes me feel like I am not alone. We are in this together. My ovaries and I. Tag teaming, despite their passive aggressive tendencies.

It’s always been this way. I have always wanted to be a mum. I see rounded bellies all around me and facebook albums full of mums and babies, and it seems like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. And yet I wonder. Will I ever have children. Sometimes the yearning feels like a clawing at my heart. Too raw. I try not to think about it, because the truth is, you can’t take it for granted. To be a mother, to have children is the greatest blessing of all. Not a right. A gift.

I wonder what my first child will be like. I imagine she will be a daughter. I wonder, will she have curly hair like mine, the kind of hair that swells like the clouds when it’s about to rain. Will she have the same little black beauty spot on her right shoulder that her mum and grandma has. Will she be quick to anger but quicker to forgive, or will she let the bitterness of emotion suck the fat off her bones. Will she view her world as a place of beauty, or will she view her beauty as her place in the world. Will she scratch at the ground to dig a path for ladybirds, or will she worry about getting dirt under her nails. What if she is really different from me. How do mums deal with that? How do they reconcile themselves to the fact that their children may grow up with fundamentally opposing perspectives on life. Like what if she hates to read. Gasp!

I think about the things we would do together. Perfect our booming giant voices as we read the BFG together. Move aside all the furniture in the living room for impromptu dance parties with deodorant cans as our makeshift mics. Build a tree house. Paint sprawling under the ocean wildlife parties on her bedroom walls. Do headstands so we could see the world all higgledy pigeldy as we figure out if it’s possible to drink water from a straw when you are upside down. Wander the forest and dance in the rain and jump in the puddles and bake cupcakes and create stories out of constellations and and and and…

I think about the things I would like to teach her. Like it’s never that serious. And to inhale the world in all its complicated glory and exhale out kindness. I would like to teach her kindness. That even when people are mean, it often comes from a place of hurt. That the most potent antidote to cruelty is kindness. That she is neither superior nor inferior to anyone else in the world. That she just is who she is. And that is all she needs to be. I would like to teach her to love her body. It is her first home. Her tool to experience life. I want her to teach me how to be a mum.

I ask mothers what it is like to have children. They tell me that life takes on greater meaning. Your existence ceases to be just about you.  All of a sudden you are entrusted with this tiny human being who you guide into the world, into being the best person they can be. That it is exhausting. And the most fulfilling thing. And wondrous. I feel a little envious when I hear that. I want that. I want this love that consumes you and runs your life and brings the world into sharp focus.

And is the most important job in the world. One that shouldn’t have death as an occupational hazard.

Yet over 162,000 mothers in Kenya die every year from childbirth complications because they don’t have access to basic emergency care services.

That is over 162,000 mothers who will never get to feel their baby’s tiny hands in theirs.

That is over 162,000 mothers who will never get to answer questions about if birds get wet when it rains.

That is over 162,000 mothers who will never tie little shoelaces in preparation of the first day of school.

That is over 162,000 mothers who will never hear their child’s dreams and watch them come alive.

That is over 162,000 mothers who will never wipe tears of joy and calm hiccups of anguish.

That is over 162,000 children who may grow up without the love of a mother.

That is over 162,000. Every year. In Kenya.

It is unfair. It is unnecessary. It is unacceptable.

You can play a small role in changing this. Stand up for African Mothers. Join the Chase Group Foundation Walk on the 28th March at the Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary to raise funds to train new midwives in rural Kenya; the proceeds from last year’s walk went to training 1500 midwives.

To find out more visit,

http://chasegroupfoundation.co.ke/our-initiatives/the-walk/saveamum/

Because to be a mother is a blessing. And never to be taken for granted.

Photo Credit