One reason for feminism.

My days of feminism were faux. They were days of realization, after observing the society and realizing the scales were imbalanced. I believed the anger I had developed would somehow make the world equal and bring social justice. Of course, after a while I realized it was not possible, too many people were angry already. Too many people had been angry before me. So many things had improved, so many conclusions had been made, so many lines of thought had been avoided and others developed. I thought then, after a while, that it was common sense. A human being deserved respect despite their gender. I realized that just because I was born a woman, I deserved equal opportunities. And these I got, mostly. It’s the 21st century, women are allowed to vote, work, have an opinion, have an education. It made no sense what we were fighting for. I believed and still believe that one does not have to be a feminist to tell off some beliefs. A certain person actually asked me why I was a feminist and the first thought that came to mind was female genital mutilation. I struggled to explain it, I have only read of the procedure in books. I found myself believing that feminism actually put women back to years when women had to fight for their rights.

I’ve been reading books by Chimamanda, she is a big fighter for female rights. She highlights in most if her books reasons for feminism. I even discovered her handbook on reasons for feminism and read and reread it. It was a great book, of course, but it gave reasons for feminism that only mildly affect me. I notice when a makanga only talks to the man I am with at the bus stage asking where we’re going, as if this man is the only one who would know where we are going. I notice, also, when a waiter gives the man I am with in a hotel the bill, as if I cannot pay for both our meals. It bothers me only to a mild degree when my culture dictates that men can learn as much as possible about culture ,especially during initiation, yet women hardly know anything about the same. Other than that I have no idea why to be a feminist.

Today, let me tell you something about myself. I love cooking. It’s an art on it’s own, sometimes even a form of therapy. When my mother disappears into the kitchen, I always make a point of following her. I’m not sure what I enjoy more, the cooking or the stories we trade as the food simmers. Most of the times I’m the one burdening her with stories about my day and half witted jokes I read in a magazine or another. As I was reading about reasons for feminism, I came across a couple of feminist writers who claim to love cooking but do not talk too much about it because of the politics that comes with cooking. I fail to understand this, shouldn’t they, for this reason ,talk more about cooking? If they are fighting for women, why shouldn’t they talk about this one little piece of cigarette that burns too many bushes? If then, feminism is against patriarchy, it should talk about women who have come to terms with the rules of patriarchy, with traditional gender roles and other gendered politics. Otherwise, most women won’t understand feminism if it claims that what they know as normal can only be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure.

Now let me give you a proverb. A favourite of my mother’s. Mutumia darwaraga. Loosely translated, a woman does not fall sick. During these little kitchen talks we have, she drops the proverb about three times every day. It is understandable of course, she plays the role of the wiser and older one, I play the role of the ever_questioning jumpy one. So one day I decided to ask her more about this proverb I hate with so much gusto.

This is what she told me. In the olden days, that is probably in the ’60s and ’70s, women were property of men. In this sense, after you pay for a pair of trousers it becomes your property, no? That was how dowry worked. After paying dowry, a man owned a woman. A woman was there to serve her family and her home for the rest of her days. It was, however, something to be desired by women, to be unmarried was like a curse. And so when a woman was married, she sought to serve and please her husband in every way possible. To make him happy. There was a tradition that men would only eat the topmost sweetest layer of the meal and only after everyone was full would the woman eat. If there was no food left, she would go to sleep hungry. If it remained, she would be the sacrificial lamb, eating the burnt food stuck at the bottom of the pot. If she fell sick, she could not stop her marital and traditional wifely duties till she recovered. If she took a break, it was in order for the man to punish his wife in whatever way he thought fit. And so even when sick, it was expected that she would work like a horse. And so, women slowly came to believe that a woman never falls sick. You are probably thinking, this was long ago, how does it apply to us right now? A perfectly logical question. Let me give you a story as my answer.

I have a widower neighbour. He had a wife, dutiful and faithful just a year ago. They had children, three beautiful angels, it seemed like a picture perfect family. Then this woman one day felt her skin itch. Of course she did not go to hospital, folks from my area don’t visit the hospital because their skin is itchy. They apply Vaseline. But her skin started producing pus and flakes. So one unbearable day she visited a doctor. It was stage four skin cancer. That folks, is how the tables turn.

The family arranged her treatment as fast as they could. Days of radiotherapy followed by chemotherapy. The cancer was advanced however, even to the specialists, it was a huge gamble. The medicine made he her weak. The disease ate into her chocolate glory and she remained a shell of her former self. It was a disease that squeezed and squeezed the family, insisting on even the last of the family resources.

This woman, however, lead by the proverb continued with her duties. She did every thing her marriage expected of her, but her body was wilting fast. And so, slowly, she could not do the laundry as she used to. She could not cook beautiful soft chapatis. She could not take care of the family garden. The husband, noticed her slow deterioration. He realized she did not have too many days left and started withdrawing money from her. If she could not act like a wife, what was her use?Suddenly she could not afford to go for her therapy sessions, she could only board bodabodas to and from wherever she needed to be. It was risky, gusts of wind could have knocked her weak self over. One day her husband walked to the bar and told his friends amidst jokes that he needed a young and fresh wife, his current wife was wilting and unable to take care of him. The men in the bar laughed. It understandable that a man would need a woman to take care of him.

It is natural order that a man cannot live without a woman. So they got him a youngish woman. When the first wife finally rested, the second woman took her place. Proud to be married by such a rich man. It is almost natural order that women would hold such rivalry against each other, a scarcity mentality about men even when men are not scarce. They are still married, this woman and the widower incase you were wondering.

I’ll predict some of your thoughts if you’ve read to this point. If you think it was a problem with their marriage, read the story again. If you find nothing wrong with the story read it again. If you think I’m just being a lazy person, trying to justify not being a ‘dutiful and strong’ wife, read the story till it imprints itself into your DNA. Someone will have an argument against the line of thought I employ in the story, portraying the woman as the victim. I will remind this person that dead men tell no tales. Another will say that culture dictates that women submit and serve their husbands, just like the proverb justifies and I will wonder if that person walks around in cow hide and an arrow by their side. Another will remind me of the other woman in the story, and I will remind them that feminism does not fight against men or women but against flawed yet accepted beliefs. One might criticise by quoting religious text and I will wonder why this person only reads religious text that favour them and ignores the rest of the holy book. This is only one story, another will shout. I am more than happy to give a million and one more stories, they might be a good nudge. Then there will be that one who will read to the very end and their heart strings will be tugged. And if they are tugged as much as mine were, be a feminist.

Legend

There is only one profession I know that thrives in mistrust from customers. Tailoring. And yes, I can hear the groan from the guy at the back left. Tailors don’t care about customer service. Or timing. Or anything. All this at the expense of their clients. Actually, do this, stop anyone walking on the street and ask them about their tailors. I bet a lot of money that their faces will crinkle and crumple like mtumba clothes. If they are the dramatic type they’ll spit on the street like a sunburnt cowboy in the desert as they give you their horror story. I’m actually sure that if a tailor is reading this they are probably rubbing their hands in evil glee and letting out a dark cackle. Okay, you caught me, I’ve been watching too much cartoon.

I’ll give you a short story, a small urban legend about tailors. Indulge me. It’s from a long time ago, when tailors were great with timing and all had functioning watches and calendars. Around this time, a girl was invited to a wedding. Her best friend’s wedding. It was a big deal of course, she was excited. So, in her excitement, she went to a fabric shop and bought printed fabric ( folks at my side of the Sahara call it the kitenge). She then browsed online looking for the perfect designs. On finding the perfect design, one that was sure to wow, she took her measurements and took the fabric, the measurements and the designs to a nearby tailor.

That day, the tailor was swamped with work. Mountain like heaps of clothes lay about him and the sewing machine chattered constantly. The tailor however promised to be done with her sewing by the next week’s Friday. The girl gave her down payment and hoped it was incentive enough. The tailor, a short balding man, made his promise and smiled a toothy smile at the girl. Assured she had left her fabric in safe hands, the girl left the tailor’s shop.

The next Thursday arrived in a blur. The girl decided to make a call to the tailor, to remind him of his self set deadline. The tailor answered the phone. He was civil and warm, assuring her that he was just finishing the last touches on the dress. It would look perfect on her skin. His wife sells jewellery and he thinks they would augur well with the dress. The girl got even more excited. Of course she could not sleep that night. She dreamt of herself as a peacock, walking on grassy lawns, showing off her colours. Then she dreamt of her pictures, right beside the bride, her beautiful prints outshining even the bride’s bland white.

And so Friday finally came. It was a beautiful day. The skies were clear, the sun smiled at everyone. The girl started with an appointment at the salon. As the hair dresser pulled and tugged at her hair, she called the tailor. The phone call did not go through. She tried it after thirty minutes, after one hour, nothing. She got a sudden bad feeling. The hairdresser, noticing her client’s obvious distress, assured her. Maybe he was charging his phone at the neighbour’s house. Maybe the phone fell into water. Maybe it was stolen. All sorts of excuses were made but a stone had permanently settled in her stomach.

As her nails were being polished, she could not sit still. And so before the polish was set to dry, she walked out of the salon. Fast enough to let dust into her slippers and to stain the polish. Her heart beat as if it was asking for freedom. Then she got to the tailor’s shop. The shop’s door was wide open, heaps of fabric covered the floor. When the tailor saw her, he smiled and slowly explained that he had made a mistake. Apparently, her fabric had gotten lost in the heaps of fabric. Of course he had meant to find it, he just hadn’t the time. The girl’s eyes bulged and she let out a couple choice words. The tailor sat looking unperturbed. He had made history. From then on, he set the bar for all tailors. A classic story of bad role modelling but he’s the most famous tailor I know.

Anyway, I have a new tailor. A different kind of tailor. A tailor that does not fit the mold. The first statement is a lie. I’m still stuck with my old tailor but a friend got herself a new tailor. She was tired of forking out a fortune every time she wanted a dress or a suit so she looked for a new one. His name is Omondi.

So, the other day I was idle and I got a phone call from her. She was very busy and she wanted me to pick her dress from Omondi’s. He had promised to be done with it by two o’clock. I, of course, took the specific timing with a pinch of salt but walked to Omondi’s shop anyway. It was around one and the sun was too hot on my forehead. His shop is pretty hidden, I got the feeling of walking towards a secret mafia office, Angelina Jolie style.

A small door leads to a narrow grime covered corridor. A corridor that rises into a flight of squeaky metallic stairs. The first shop on my right was his. Two plastic chairs and an unused sewing machine sit outside the door and I got the feeling that Omondi is minimalistic. He does not waste too much resources on aesthetic. His shop is simple. Two sewing machines and two padded chairs, one for him and one for his coworker. A simple set up. Pictures of his best works are the only thing hanging from the wall.

When I got there, I found the two men sitting, busy, earphones plugged in. Men at work. He saw me and welcomed me, pointing towards the chairs. It’s a cool place, welcome from the heat outside and so I was more than happy. In thirty minutes or so, he was finished with the dress and packing it into a green paperbag which just so happened to be a discount. He said a cheery bye! and sat on his chair ready to create magic for another client. Quick math, he was done with the dress thirty minutes before his promised time. I believe I have met a legend. Maybe he should be the next urban legend, the one who sets a new bar for all tailors. Before that however, I’ll dump my old tailor for Omondi.

2021…..

A Christmas slump hit me. Parties, festivities and travels, as it turns out ,act like a brick wall to the stories I churn out. It is, however, a great time. There is a joy that comes with realizing how tall your cousins have become, how your favourite aunt is fairing. However writers block has been following me like a grey cloud on my head. I took a walk through the streets of Thika one afternoon, trying to clear my mind. It was not far, a one matatu transit affair, a busy enough place to push the dusty cogs in my mind.

I met this woman that afternoon ,the midday sun was hot and unforgiving on our heads. People scrambled for the roofed streets and alleys, each looking for shade.I was in an alley lined with m_pesa shops signed by neon lights and boutiques selling old clothes branded as new. Beggars sat in the corners, dirty and undignified, bowls sitting in front of them. Bowls that all suspiciously had two ten shilling coins. Enough to clank in plea to passerbys but also enough to show how bad of a ‘begging day’ it had been. A bell rung constantly, an invitation into one hotel or another for lunch. They all had a lunchtime discount, 10 or 20 percent. Smells of fried food drifted into our noses, inviting.

The day I met this woman she was wearing a black dress, free fitting on her figure so she looked like she was floating. It was long enough to cover her feet and shoes. Her braids were held loosely on her head, so loosely that it seemed that the hair band she had would fall anytime. Still, she looked beautiful, her skin glowing and her eyes sparkling. Like a black angel. A bump on her abdomen, the laboured walk, she had a bun in the oven.

The day before I met her, I had visited the salon. The braids still felt tight on my head, the hair dresser had been a tad bit too heavy handed. She was a slight woman with a loud voice. She shared what I imagined was the hottest gossip in the area. There was the story about the woman who had bleached ber skin to keep her husband, only for her husband to elope with a dark woman. And the story about the woman who was believed to be a witch, and her husband a night runner, and it was the reason they remained childless. They sold their children to the devil, it was said. They talked about hair and about clothes, and about the rich young man who had just moved into the neighbourhood.

I was thinking about this gossip, worried slightly about what they had said of me the minute I had stepped out of the salon, when I found myself staring at this woman. She looked distantly familiar, I was not sure from where, but I had not meant to stare. She looked directly at me and began her slow laboured walk towards me. For a minute I considered turning back and walking away, who knew what her agenda was.

Then I remembered her, we had studied in primary school together. It was easy to forget her, she had been voted the quietest girl in our class back then. She had been so quiet, it was easy to forget she was in class, seated right there, next to you. In her however was a quiet calmness, an introverted independence we sensed and maybe were a bit afraid of. She had disappeared after primary, no one knew where she had ended up.

She came in a familiar friendliness and pulled me in for a hug. Her swollen belly pressed against me in an uncomfortable pause, my hands remained stubbornly slack by my sides. Then ‘came the how have you beens’ and ‘you’ve changed so much’ and I felt guilty that she remembered my name so easily like we had been in primary school only yesterday and not years ago. A light bulb came soon enough, Vivian. That was her name. She invited me for lunch.

“I’m buying.” I was sold.

It was a curious thing, how easily stories weaved from her, jokes about teachers and subjects, complaints about the education system. I noticed a gold band on her ring finger glinting in the sunlight. She carried this band with pride, it was the hand she used to unnecessarily point the restaurant she wanted us to go to.

The restaurant filled with soft glowing lights and quiet sunlight filtered by small windows. A television was mounted on the wall, just above a small window_ like opening that the chefs passed and received orders. From the television came romantic saxophone music that easily tore through my heart. The waitresses took our order, their efficiency was admirable. I looked at Vivian willing a steady conversation to materialise.

“I got myself a rich man,” she said suddenly, smiling as if she all the words she had said before led to this moment. I was quiet for a beat, hoping she would say something else. “He’s married, yet this child I have is his. I don’t know what to do.” I saw her figure hunch a bit, suddenly like an invincible weight had materialised on her shoulders. I was curious as to why she told me this, I was a practical stranger to her.

The waitress brought our orders at about that time, like clockwork. We sat in silence staring at the plates in front if us, not sure whether to eat or not.

Vivian said not another word to me the whole meal, paid the bill and left me with a ball in my throat. As she walked out, I noticed how well put together she seemed, how beautiful and sated she looked. It was easy to admire her from afar, not knowing what weight rested on her shoulders. And so, getting home, I picked my pen ready to give her story, scandalous and twisted of women who go out with married men. I didn’t, obviously. After penning this, I’m going to pick yet another soda bottle then and force the sugary liqiud down my throat. Here is to the end of the year*glasses clink*

True truths.

Some truths are universal habits. Like avoiding one corner of a watermelon while eating it. Or eating a three quater piece of a banana and throwing the other quarter with the peel. Or swallowing the token one seed every time you eat an orange. The last one ,especially, is a form of therapy, defying the stories we were given in our childhoods of orange trees growing in our stomachs after we swallowed the seeds. It was only till our science teachers came and dispelled the myths and gave us, instead, words like pollination. I know I breathed a sigh of relief that day.

Other truths are general truths, like you can never win a war of words with makangas. Or that matatu drivers are the most reckless drivers you will ever meet. Or that even when crossing a pedestrian crossing you should always look out for a Kenya Mpya bus otherwise you will find yourself in mbinguni mpya. Or that most people you meet in church are the worst people you will ever meet, hiding behind cloaks of religion. And that the best people you’ll ever meet might be in brothels and clubs. Such is the irony of life.

Other truths are inarguable truths. Like the sun rises in the east and sets in the West. Or that colonialism made no sense whatsoever, a man infiltrating another man’s country because he deems it richer or assumes his fellow man is inferior to him is uncivilized, no? Or that corruption will always be a festering wound in Kenya, as long as children are born into a scaringly selfish world, corruption can never stop oozing it’s pus. Or that we, Kenyans, are selectively amnesiac and will choose bad leaders every five years knowing that the country has been in the dogs court for way too long.

Others are sad truths. Like climate change and it’s constant effects on the world. And how you will still find people littering and cutting trees even when the rains have delayed for way too long. Or that most people keep dying in hospitals because someone is driving a V8 purchased with all the money required to provide medicine in hospitals. Or that someone will kill another in blinding greed for power or wealth and not too many will bat an eyelid. Or that most “men of God ” are celebrated com men and women, but not many can open their eyes to this truth, eyes already sewn shut by threads of religion.

Some truths are tough to swallow. Like love is not the only source of happiness. Or that marriage can be unfair to most women, especially where titles husband and boss are interchangeable. Or that some people are just not made to be parents and don’t have to have children. Or that feminism is not really as bad as it sounds, and it’s not a man hating cult either. Or that faith has been twisted to favour only the poor and the ill_fated because apparently suffering is supposed to be higher being’s will.

Or maybe the truth about this whole article is I didn’t have anything to write this week. That’s the true truth.

Half of a yellow sun

I was in a small town that smells of tea leaves more than your cup of chai smells of tea leaves when a sentence came to mind. The essence of a story is to live another person’s life, to escape from our own reality and maybe to satisfy the human curiosity we have about other people’s lives. A great introduction for a review of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Like a proper reviewer I should introduce the protagonist of the story. As I read the book however, I think Chimamanda takes enough time with the characters, breathing life into them, so much so that one has the freedom of choosing one’s own protagonist. At first, we are introduced to a character, Ugwu. He comes to Nsukka as the houseboy to Professor Odenigbo and later to Mistress Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover. Ugwu is a constant character with a great loyalty to his master and mistress, an incestuous crush on his cousin Nnesinachi and a curiosity for his sister, Anulika’s body. Throughout the story, Ugwu is potrayed in different aspects, a student, teacher, lover,military boy and finally a writer. I consider him my protagonist.

Odenigbo is constantly potrayed as a revolutionist in the story, a perfect character against the political_revolutionary backdrop of the theme. His lover, Olanna is introduced as a learned, beautiful woman ( her name translated means God’s gold). She has a twin sister, Kainene (her name roughly translated means let’s wait for the next one God brings) who is the literal opposite of herself with boyish looks, business mindset and cold_cutting sarcasm. Kainene who’s lover is Richard Churchill, a shy journalist expatriate constantly referred to as an onyinbo ,a white man.

The story follows the happenings of the Biafran war and it’s effects on Nigeria. It’s effects on the characters in the book. At one point, Kainene coins the phrase, “The World Was Silent While We Died”. The book is divided into four chapters of “The World Was Silent While We Died.” The war changes the country, and most of all changes friendships of the characters and relationships. We see characters lose and find themselves throughout the story. We see loss of hope and gaining of the same, we see fear and courage, love and indifference all in the throes of war. Honestly, I find it a great read

I liked the book for the non_serious way it is written yet still has heavy themes and the ability to make one feel. There is the unashamed way Chimamanda challenges comfortable patterns of thought in her writings and undertones, however small, are in half of a yellow sun. Mostly it is more of a story than a literary piece in my opinion unlike her other works like Americanah and Purple hibiscus. It’s a great book I would recommend for anyone with a love for great story lines.

Burn…

Three boys crouched behind a thorny thicket. They huddled together, maybe to keep their adrenaline pumped bodies from shaking. Or maybe to protect themselves from the cold night’s draft that caressed their skins under flimsy night clothes. Pins pricked their feet from the uncomfortable position they sat in but they did not dare move a muscle. They would wait till their plan worked. None of them dared to think of likely failure lest they jinx their night. The taller darker boy glanced at the watch on his wrist.

12:59am.

It should happen any minute now…….

Someone screamed.

* * * * * * * *

11:30am

Three friends sat on the grass chewing blades and sticks in utter boredom and purposefully ignoring the Chemistry book that sat open in front of them. Moles. Their least favourite topic. The lighter_skinned boy, Mwaniki, kicked the book shut leaving a shoe imprint on the cover. He had been in a particularly foul mood today, after his public humiliation for a small mistake he had made earlier. He was the senior prefect for crying out loud. He was above common strokes of cane. He spat on the grass, a foul milky substance, then he clicked.

The darker boy, Enishpai, looked at him with a lazy smile. He knew his friend was angry and this made him happy. He had never liked the lazy way in which Mwaniki praised the school and it’s administration. If it were up to him he would be in America right now, living the life he should be living. Not this one among peasants and teachers who played military. God knows his father could take him to the States if he really wanted to. The only thing that came between him and his American dreams was this damn school and for that reason, he hated it.

“Who does that teacher think he is, slapping and beating you like a dog. In front of everybody, even those pesky Form Ones! Who will respect you now?”

He was adding salt to the injury, pushing Mwaniki to the limit to see what he would do to appease his hurt ego.

Otieno, a smaller boy with ruffled clothes fiddled with his pen. He always seemed unsure of himself, unsure why these two boys had chosen him as their friend. For this reason he lived to appease them, giving them crazy daredevil ideas to justify this friendship. To stand out from the already bright spotlights the two boys created. And so he squeaked “Why don’t we burn the school then? Teach this guys a lesson?”

Otieno loved the surprise that registered on their faces. Then vengeful pleasure. And just like that, an idea was born. They huddled together and planned how to siphon the petrol from the lawn mower_ the bus garage was out of bounds_ and how to steal the lighter from the cooks after supper. The plan was easy enough. And for Otieno, it was crazy enough to allow him to straighten his gait even just a bit. He, the invincible boy to many students and teachers, was about to cause a shock wave.

10:50pm

The whole school was asleep, unaware of the hell about to be unleashed. Otieno walked soundlessly, a dark figure, pouring flammable liquid sparingly on window sills and wooden doors. Then around the emergency exits. Slowly the two largest dormitories had a dark liquid around their perimeter. Enishpai lit pieces of paper and placed them directly over petrol then signalled for the boys. They had planned their hiding place behind a thicket. A safe distance from the fire but close enough not to raise suspicion. And when the pieces of paper burst into tiny flames, flames that joined to form bigger explosions, the boys emerged and blended perfectly into the chaos. At first, in pure theatrics they wore masks of fear and shock, but looking back at the blazing dormitories, at the students jumping from high balconies, the fear became real. And when students were reported to have been stuck in the fire, the three boys knew they had bitten more than they could chew. So Mwaniki rushed into the dormitory to save a boy whose screams were getting shriller by the minute. No one could have stopped him even if they tried.

“………from dust we come and from dust we shall return. May His name be praised. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Mwaniki son of Gathigia, may you rest in eternal peace……”

An African halo.

I have always wanted to write about hair. More specifically about African hair. I have always wanted to write about the kinky, coily, coarse afro that sprouts from our heads. Of how it defies gravity. Of how it forms a halo around our heads, an African halo.

I have always wanted to write about maintaining African hair. Of how it needs time and love, like a child. And how, like a child, it throws a tantrum once it’s denied these. I have always wanted to write about how most people cannot fathom the idea of keeping African hair natural. Of how most people believe it is hard to take care of unless it is straightened or relaxed. Of how most people believe African hair is the bad type of hair. Of how most people live apologetically of the hair that grows from their heads, as if it is not worth being in the same world as long lustrous straight hair that grows on other people’s heads.

I have always wanted to write about how we only love African hair only on our screens. When it is so voluminous and long it looks like a weave. When it is beautiful with expensive sunflower clip ins and glittery filters. When it has an overload of exotic products, products with precious unaffordable oils. Oils that promise to help it loose it’s dullish coarse appearance.

I have always wanted to write about the shame that is carried about unplaited African hair. How we feel the need to hide it in scarves and capes, deeming it not worthy of being seen without added extensions. Of how sporting an afro feels like neglecting your image, as unprofessional even to some. Of how many stares an unplaited afro gets, like it’s a dirty secret being aired in public. Of bad combs and good combs for African hair and how arrogant saloonists insist on using the bad combs because ‘they get all the tangles.’ A code word for, they make your hair look less like your hair. Of how these saloonists plant seeds of hatred for our own hair, pulling and tugging at it calling it too hard. Or too dry. How they praise those with looser textures in our presence as if to remind us that we were cursed by the gods of hair. Of how they try to sell relaxers to us reminding us that our hair is not easily maintained in it’s natural state.

I have always wanted to write about how wearing an afro feels like a fight against expectations of how presentable hair should look like. Of how hair should look before stepping out of the house. Of how being natural is like an activism of sorts, like fighting for something that came so natural to you, your own hair. Of how it is brave to be natural, to accept yourself even to the shameful bits, like your own hair. Of how now it’s a community of strong defiant people, like defying hatred for self is something foreign. Like hating parts of yourself is the most natural thing to do.

And I probably will write about it someday. Right now let me finish combing…..ouch…okay now I need a better comb.

A marriage of conscience

Gather around this fire folks, and pay attention. This is a story of a man of God who one night when the yearnings of the flesh were too strong to ignore, he went to look for release from a woman of the night. The next morning came with regrets and rushed decisions. He, in a moments decision, knelt by the bed and asked the woman to marry him. To cleanse his conscience and not for love. The woman said yes, it was an opportunity to start her life on a clean slate. They went ahead and got married, a white dress wedding. They then relocated to the village to live away from the sin and temptations of the city. Three years down the line, they had two children, a boy and a girl. They were not the type of couple that kept pets though.

The woman had chosen a life of domesticity and piousness. The life of a pastor’s wife. After his marriage, the pastor had achieved a promotion after another in church. He was held in respect as not only a man of God but a family man. A responsibile man. A true leader. The family was held in high regard in the village. People came for prayers and brought along gifts. They greeted the couple with both hands, clasping their hands in theirs as if to will some of the godly blessings through their skins.

The woman had changed. She had lengthened her skirts, loosened her shirts, buttoned her blouses. She had let her skin burn in the hot sun, her joints were ashy, her face was pimply. Fat had settled in places she would have frowned on in her past life. Her body had softened in places that she had prided solid muscle. It was her husband’s joy though, he did not want strange men looking at his wife for too long, noticing her beauty.

She wore scarves to hide her hair because it was what the bible says. She was a hard working wife, waking up before sunrise to take care of her family, of her home. She spent days in her little farm planting healthy food because she did not trust food from the market. She was a good mother. She closed her daughter’s legs and disciplined her son’s character. All in the ways of the Lord. It was a peaceful life.

This woman however was haunted. She dreamt dreams of short dresses and expensive cigarettes. Of red lips blowing smoke into the cold night’s air. Of high heels and waking up in strange beds next to men she had never met. Men she would probably never meet again. She would every once in a while take the clothes hidden under long skirts and frilly blouses. Clothes that revealed more than they covered. Clothes that were just strips of fabric. Clothes that made her feel, in the words of Ariana Grande, like a dangerous woman. She would pose in front of the mirror, tucking in the extra fat she had acquired in her lower belly. She flirted with the idea of freedom. Of leaving this stability for the dangerous freedom she once knew. However, before her husband came back, she would hide the clothes all together with her ungodly dreams.

Villagers asked them questions, like a child asks their parents. Most people were caught in the dilemma, confused between satisfying their own desires and the will of God. She wondered if they knew she too had similar questions. And that she too was confused. Her husband had a clear cut way of dealing with these. He would pray and rebuke the devil of their flesh, commanding them to repent. He called them children of hell fire and threatened them with everlasting doom if they even thought of sin. Sometimes she wondered fleetingly if he heard the hypocrisy in his own prayers, or if God heard it. She felt surges of impatience at his lengthened prayers of rebuke and wanted to cut them short. She however held her husband’s hand tightly and said feverent ‘Yes’ and ‘let it be so’ throughout the prayers. And when the prayers were done, she said amen, not too loud though, lest it drowns her husband’s. After that they would head home, a pastor and his wife, quoting scriptures because that was what good couples do. And at night, she dreamt of women in short dresses and red lips.

Impatience.

You know who can smell potential? Makangas. That’s who. These peeps can smell a potential passenger from Loitoktok. They can sense that someone in Garissa woke up that morning and considered going to the CBD. After that it doesn’t matter if this matatu only plies the superhighway route. They will go to Garissa. They will brave the hot sun and the desert winds for that one person. To them every passenger matters. Okay, let me rephrase that, to them every passenger’s money matters. These guys are known for their patience. You could wake up in the morning, take a shower, make your breakfast, meditate, walk the dog, say hi to the neighbours and they will wait. They will wait till you are ready to board their matatus. They will wait for the second coming of the Messiah if you just promise that you will board their matatus to heaven. I promise they will wait.

This is good and all till they are playing their waiting game when you are already aboard. Especially if you are in a hurry. That’s when you curse so much the devil blushes. The sarcasm of the stickers on the matatu does not escape you.

Kama ukona haraka shuka ukimbie.

Hii ni gari ya abiria haitaki starehe.

Oh, and my all time favourite. Cast your burdens unto Jesus for he cares for you.

That means you should take even your complaints about this matatu to the Lord. He cares for you. The driver doesn’t. And neither does the conductor. So, if you cast your burdens on them they might just serve you a hot plate of their foul tongues. And there are a few things more embarrassing than a tout calling you all sorts of colourful names in the full glare of fellow passengers. So basically the matatu might have seen more prayers than a church. Everyone just casting burdens of impatience to Jehovah.

This morning I was that impatient person fidgeting at my seat. It could be impatience, the anxiety_inducing feeling that I was late or just because I had been seated on the same seat for thirty minutes straight. Both the conductor and the driver were out, probably waiting for the chap from Garissa. Or Loitoktok. Who was coming on foot. All I could think of was the too_good_for_this_world lecturer I was going to meet. Probably one who got off from embarrassing late students in front of the whole class. Or the type who gave unsolicited impromptu CATs. I could not decide which fate was worse.

So I did what any other late person would do. I distracted my self on social media. For my daily dose of a good laugh. Or a green eye. Or both. I stumbled upon a bunch of letters written by four year olds to God that gave me a good laugh. One read, “Hey God, did you mean for the giraffe to look that way or was it by accident?” Aaah those letters were a blast.

Okay, you caught me. I’m lying. That was just a joke I’ve been itching to use. In reality I just sat there and stared through the window. And hoped that the guy from Garissa was speed walking. Or better yet, running.

Nights

A mosquito sneaks into your net. A noisy one at that. Well, to be fair, I’m yet to meet a quiet mosquito. They are always loud, itching to spew tales of their day as they suck your blood. And so you wake up and switch your phone’s torch. You want to see the intruder. It’s the same psychology as the lights used by the police on runaway criminals. Because people and insects alike are less likely to do wrong in glaring light. But you don’t see it. I think mosquitoes can camouflage. They just hide even in the most obvious places but you can’t see them. Your eyes are half open, your dreams are half finished and your temper is half risen. So you calm yourself, maybe the mosquito buzz was a vivid extension of your dream. So you switch of your mobile phone torch and welcome the peace of slumber.

Just when you’ve caught up with sleep( because sleep can be elusive at this hour and prefers to be chased) the buzz shows up again. This time directly over your ear. This mosquito demands an audience. It also demands your blood. Of course this infuriates you. You didn’t sign up to donate blood to these insects you see. You have an early morning tomorrow. You need your beauty sleep, one that you’ll wake up preferably without any unsightly lumps. You are tired. But this mosquito won’t shut the hell up.

So you wake up. The world is quiet. Well the whole world except this one damn mosquito. This night is one of the special ones. The ones bathed in beautiful moonlight glow. Calm light whispers into your room through curtain cracks. The night is starry. It’s not dramatic like in the movies with shooting stars and the milky way. The stars are simple studs in the dark night. Glittering studs. The moon is a clumsy round lump of stained white against the magic. A cricket breaks the silence every few minutes then keeps quiet in self conscious embarrassment.

Outside the window, the world is different. The grass is not the same shade of green. The wood is not the same shade of brown. The evils are not the same shade of black.The shadows are longer. It’s ironic, the divine glow produces the scariest shadows. You give up on the mosquito hunt, or on the sleep hunt for that matter. Because misery loves company ,the mosquito is now all over your case, happy to have caught your attention. It flies from one ear to another somehow being even more annoying than before.

It’s 3 am. Three hours from now the world will wake up and the nightly peace will be disturbed. 3 am thoughts are hardly happy thoughts. They are thoughts of insominiacs, of sad people or of people who are being hunted down by annoying mosquitoes. Like you. So you sit up on your bed in silence and remember all the embarrassing moments in your life, one by one. You remember all the bad things you have done, your selfish moments, the moments you let the devil reign. Sadness creeps to your bed and lies with you egging your self pitying tears. This could continue for a while.

However a painful itch stabs your arm. Your reverie is interrupted as you claw at your arm as if deranged. The mosquito won. But it was a gredy mosquito and now it can’t fly away from your slap. Satisfied that you have dealt with the noisy intruder as any adult would, you drift off into slumber. It’s peaceful, you are not haunted by the fact that you just murdered the Lord’s creature.