This was not the way I had intended for that night to unravel. But the night was swathed in its own surprises. Details of that night are well mapped in my memories; a choreography that opens like a play unfolding in plots and twists that build up to an unexpected climax. I was utterly restless. Every organ in my body refused to synchronize with the other creating a disharmony that was making me pace from my bed to the kitchen and back. The sheets were too warm to allow my body and mind to drift into the bliss of sleep. Outside the bed, an air of chill hovered about forcing me to retreat under the duvet. Five hours had slipped by as I listened to the clock on the wall ping loudly at every passing hour. Outside all was still and awfully quiet giving my thoughts a dissonance that I was trying to shut off. I wanted to hear a creature beyond the window make a dreary nighttime noise or just the sound of cars speeding along as their drivers accelerated and marveled at the traffic-free tarmac. But there was nothing save for the loud silence and my even louder thoughts demanding to be acknowledged and mulled over. Then there was the dull ache emanating from the back of my head, doing circuits through my temples, round my forehead and back. Three MaraMoja’s later and the throb hadn’t stopped. I had cried my eyes out and my eye bags felt like slobs of wet cement.
It had taken me by surprise when I had begun sobbing on the sofa earlier. I had spent the entire Friday afternoon stuffing myself with comfort food and binge watching comedy shows. At the time, the thoughts that were eating at me presently were nothing but unpleasant memories packed and stacked away in the attic of my mind. Not to be retrieved or visited. I was making the most of my day off from work after months of crazy client expectations, demands and deadlines. Everything was going swimmingly well I kept assuring myself .But I should have paid attention to the incessant, blinking red light when I uncorked the third bottle of Fragolino White .Then Mike and Molly were kissing on TV and before I knew it, the most despicable of cries was pouring out of my mouth. A cry so unrestrained, ugly and honest. Perhaps a tad dramatic but that was my moment and I wanted to shine in my crying. The more I cried the uglier I made it sound at one point deliberately letting my mouth take the shape of a wide O then allowing the corners of my mouth to fall and crease downwards while really squeezing the tears out of my eyes. This was a perfect Hollywood cry. To glamourize the whole dramatic episode I hurled my wine glass across the room and felt it shatter violently as it hit the wall. I crowned it all by letting my body to slide to the floor while clutching at the corners of the rug in foetus position then allowing myself one more dramatic wail before grabbing my bottle of wine and chugging its contents. It felt good.
Not now. Now it hurt. It pinched worse than the pain of spending all day in small shoes. I wanted to stop thinking about her but she was there in every glance I took, in every wisp of air that I inhaled, everything I touched or smelled she was there almost as if gloating of her indispensability. It made me rage then break and rage and break again. I deserved an answer. She owed me one after everything. I wanted one. I wanted her. It’s the least possible thing she could do, offer me an honest explanation. I was going to get those answers. I was going to see her. Tonight. Now. Didn’t matter whether she wanted to see me or not, I had the right. ‘Now or never’ I repeated to myself easing my mind into a conclusive stance. With this newly established resolve and a pounding heart, I jumped out of bed grabbed my phone, requested for an Uber and slipped into my grey Adidas pants, a black jacket and my pink fur slip-ons . I was still drunk.
The stereo in the car was playing some loud rap music and I asked, rather demanded that the driver play something else. He obliged settling on a station churning some old RnB music which was great for a minute before I felt it preempt the melancholy I was trying to quell. Sensing my apprehension, the driver switched off the radio altogether further ushering in that same silence I was trying to escape. My eyes scanned the lively streets with bright neon lights welcoming patrons to club this and that, young people smooching, laughing and smoking outside, prostitutes with thick yellow thighs wearing the bare minimum oblivious of the biting cold, vendors selling sweets and condoms and young men lurking in corners waiting for those who were too drunk to protect their belongings. This was Nairobi by night. A contrast of the pretentiously moral and organized city it disguises itself as, the minute sunlight splashes across the sky. This double life is much easier to navigate for the millions of occupants meticulously juggling their Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde roles with every passing dusk and dawn.
The Uber pulled up in front of the familiar huge grey gate adorned with golden metal bows and thin electric wires at the top. It was 3.22 am on the car’s stereo. I caught my disheveled reflection on the rear-view mirror and quickly looked away. After about 3 minutes of honking, the watchman emerged from the smaller gate. He was wrapped in a dirty, raggedy blanket thrown over his three or so thick sweaters, his face almost invisible behind the woolen beanie covering his face leaving slits just big enough for his eyes. He flashed his torch at the car indicating that he wanted to see who was inside. The driver rolled down my window, a torrent of cold air slapping my face. The watchman squinted, exposing red eyes heavy with sleep and disturbed dreams. He’d seen me here enough times and knew me well enough to let us in.
As I made my way to the third floor, my body was jelly threatening to melt into nothing at the same time retaining enough tenacity to keep itself together. Door 3F . Lights on. Sounds of laughter and glasses clinking inside. Gas bubbling in my stomach. A whimper behind the door. Cold fingers. More laughter. A man’s voice. Shifty feet. A slight knock. No response. Maybe I should leave. Another knock. Approaching footsteps. An expression of surprise. Black Lingerie. Awkward silence.
‘Hi,” I stutter
“Is everything okay?” she eyes me suspiciously
“Can I come in? “ I ask eyes on the floor
“Not a good time. Why? Is everything okay?” she’s hesitant
“No! Not okay! Because you can’t suddenly decide that you’re fucking men!” my fingers are trembling
“Really! You want to do this at three in the morning?” she bites her lip in anger
“Why not!” I retort voice much louder
Damn! Her body… I could have her. Here and now on this hallway.
“It’s not a good time!” She indicates someone’s presence in the house
“I don’t care. I want to talk now,” I am feeling bold and dizzy drunk
A tall, shirtless man with a small bulging paunch and tight briefs appears, “Is there a problem?”
Deep voice, deep set eyes, older,mildly attractive man
‘Come in,” she gestures at me stepping aside to let me in
(TO BE CONTINUED…
I got my first period when I was 13 and immediately started to question whether this journey into womanhood was supposed to hurt this much. No one had informed me. The excruciating pain was there from the onset. The deputy principal phoning my mum every month to come pick me from school as I writhed in pain, walking up and down the school hallways as unfathomable jets of pain ripped through my body. In high school I attended boarding school and things got worse. I remember trying to sit still in class but there would debilitating pain and I would just walk out and head to the sick bay. Here the nurse would bombard me with her zero-effect painkillers and I would be rolling on the floor waiting for the pain to subside missing classes for 2 days. When the pain completely refused to heed the painkillers, the school would phone my dad who would pick me up and take me to Aga Khan Hospital where I would get painkillers administered intravenously. The thing is, no one at this point thought of doing any tests to check for any underlying illness. These were just normal period pains even to the doctors.
After high school things became worse than ever. Being rushed to hospital at 3am because the slicing pain would start at 7pm and go on till the wee hours of the morning when I’d go wake my parents up to take me to hospital crying literally. Some days my sisters would dash to the pharmacy to get me meds when the pain kicked in. They would warm water bottles to place on my raging lower stomach but it was all hopeless. I remember lying on the floor with my stomach hard pressed on the cold cement begging God to help me. I would question Him. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Yet I’m no more special than the blind the deaf, those afflicted by cancer and so on. So I stopped this questioning and the entitlement behind it. But let me try describe this pain…This pain is like nothing you know. It’s a sharp pointed knife deftly slicing through your stomach lining nonstop. The pain would start in my mid back down to my lower back, my behind, my thighs and my stomach. A searing pain would incessantly rip through my stomach down to my thighs sending shockwaves of pain throughout my body. I would bleed heavily and would feel my as though my uterus was trying to push out through my vagina. I would be bloated, not eating, nauseated and vomiting, weak, moody and terribly sick. I once collapsed in my campus room and a friend had to call the university ambulance to rush me to the school clinic for emergency treatment. My life was a real nightmare every time my period showed up.
I decided to seek treatment and went in for my first ultra sound at Mater Hospital. The gynecologist I saw diagnosed me with a left ovarian cysts and recommended surgery. I was alone, 19 years or thereabout and clueless. I did not understand what ovarian cysts were and the doctor didn’t explain either. I shared the news with my mother when I got home. She objected to surgery and sent me to a different doctor at Aga Khan Hospital. The feedback was the same but instead of surgery this doctor prescribed OTC painkillers to be taken during my period when the pain would be at its peak. The pain was beyond the painkillers abilities and I was back to square one. Again, I went to see a new doctor who performed an ultra sound and declared me healthy and asked me to take Buscopan Plus. Yet here I was still suffering terribly.
It was while I was in my 2nd year at the University that my mother sent me to see my current gynae at Nairobi Hospital. He had a pelvic ultrasound performed and the diagnosis came: ‘Endometrioma on the right ovary and moderate Adenomysosis on the uterus.’ It all sounded like Greek to me but the doctor offered me a brief explanation of what it was I was suffering from. His description was spot on with what I had been going through over the years. I was happy to finally put a name to all this. I was immediately placed on 6 months hormonal therapy but after the first 3 months I opted out because of the side effects. These hormonal medications induce temporary menopause including terrible hot flashes day and night, mood swings and feelings of sadness or depression. They were wearing me out when I was at the peak of my studies so I stopped. I went back to taking painkillers and the occasional injection whilst dreading each period. After campus, the symptoms exacerbated and I would have attacks of pain at work forcing me to go home or to hospital for injections.
Last year, I decided to resume treatment and the ultrasounds showed that my disease had spread a little. Again, I was put on hormonal treatment for 6 months and my periods stopped for the entire year 2015. I had to put up with the side effects but these were better than the killer cramps.I just came off the treatment and I’m in less pain than before but still waiting to see whether this relief will last. I can only hope it’s going to get better.
Endometriosis is almost virtually unknown as it has always been linked to older Caucasian women. But the reality is its affects all women including girls as young as 13 years. It happens when endometrial tissue implant themselves and grow outside the uterus in areas such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, rectum and sometimes as far as the liver, lungs and brain .The cause is not known but there are some theories which you can look up. Diagnosis can be done in two ways: through ultrasounds if the lesions are large enough to be identified this way and most commonly through laparoscopy which is an invasive surgery used to locate smaller lesions .Diagnosis often takes a long time to come because even the experienced doctors will often dismiss such pain as normal cramping .Sometimes endometriosis is present without any symptoms of pain. One of its biggest side effects is that it causes infertility in a large number of women especially when it is not treated. It doesn’t have a cure but pain can be managed though OTC painkillers, hormonal treatment or surgery. Recurrence after surgery is common.
If Endometriosis is a little known disease then Adenomyosis is virtually unknown. Adenomyosis occurs when the cells that line the inside of the uterus also abnormally grow on the wall of the uterus. 12% of women diagnosed with Adenomyosis have been found to suffer from Endometrisosis. Like Endometriosis, it has no cure. The symptoms are similar to those of endo. As a person afflicted by both diseases, I am only now realizing which one causes which symptoms in body. As endo and adeno sufferers we have to constantly think about the possibility of infertility which increase with advancing age. Just to be clear having a baby or getting a hysterectomy are often recommended solutions BUT they do not cure Endometriosis.
These are expensive diseases to treat. One painkiller is about Kshs. 25 and depending on the severity of the pain one may need a few packets. One hormonal injection cost Kshs. 25,000 two of those costs twice as much and so on. Laparoscopy and surgery are even more expensive. Add doctor consultation fees, ultra sound fees and other related costs and this is an expense out of reach for many Kenyan women. Insurance companies rarely cover these kinds of costs and everything has to be paid from the pockets of most women. And this is for those who can even afford to. The qualified OB/GYNs trained to handle diagnosis and surgeries are few. What this means is that, these painful, emotionally draining, life changing diseases continue to harm many women as they watch helplessly.
I must say that I am glad that I have found a group of Kenyan women living with endometriosis. Some of these women more affected by the disease than I am .Together we are trying to make a difference whether it is through creating awareness on the disease, looking to collaborate with OB/GYNs for cheaper diagnosis and treatment options and hopefully seeking to lobby government to implement better health policies for endo sufferers. Another area we want to look into is places of employment and schools and the possibilities of them allowing off days for women afflicted by Endometriosis and Adenomyosis. With the right numbers we can do this. March is Endometriosis Awareness Month and my call is to all the women suffering in silence. You don’t have to suffer alone. Come forward. Speak up let your voice be heard and let it count. The Endometriosis Foundation of Kenya welcomes you. As for anyone else out there suffering from extreme menstrual pain, seek medical advice immediately. Do not normalize your pain as you suffer away. My hope is that someday soon, these diseases will get the attention they deserve from all relevant stakeholders to facilitate research, diagnosis and affordable treatment.
Wishing everyone a Happy Endometriosis Month!
Sometimes I question this mask I wear with such ease
I muse about its essence
Why it is here and what it is borne out of
The mask of invulnerability
A superpower to retreat and get lost within oneself
To own a heart that declines to be reached or seen
Not even by the sturdy Hercules’, the romantic Lorenzos
Or the prying Delilahs of this world.
A vault sealed by the spells of the most powerful witches
Wherein lies muffled screams laden with emotional solitude
Yearning for half a soul to confide in
I ponder the inception of this barren and
deserted emotional sole soul confinement
Devoid of a soul sister to cry or laugh with
Perhaps an intrinsic personality trait where,
the natural go- to- reaction is to corrugate pain,
joy or any signs of human feeling with
‘I’m okay’ or a
‘this is how much you get to see coy smile’ .
A lie that you dare not sell to yourself because
Deep down you know the slightest poke,
And boom! boxes of packed feelings would tumble to the surface
Pouring out a plethora of raw, septic, unsorted and unresolved wounds
Perhaps, this invulnerability is simply an unhealthy defiance
Towards the sexist notions of ‘emotional women’
You refusing to be confined within a stereotype
Though you know science approves
Yet you wonder
Would it be different were this barrier lifted?
Still, this introspection yields nothing
Another box on unpacked feelings and
Clutter that ought to be tossed out
Gets packed and stashed away
Straight ‘To sort Later Vault’
Where you make sure to bolt the door with haste
Lest the overrunning mess escape from the crammed abyss
Where you hide your true self from the world
One minute you’re having the best sex of your life and the next thing you know its 8 years down the line and you have 3 children calling you daddy. It all seems surreal as flip through The Sunday Nation, a habit that is, or at least used to be a favourite Sunday pastime but has now become a daunting task. Little Joy as feisty as ever, grabs the middle pages of your newspaper for her favourite, the colour- in section in the Nation Kids pullout. Her brother Ian, the quieter one of the twins, whines and implores for the 5 page comic pullout, tugging at your baggy, weekend tracksuit pants. The older one, Michael, kicks a ball lazily, this way and that way, dragging his feet in front of you,his head hang and his face sunken. This is his way of letting you know just how bored he is. You had hoped that new ball would keep him more occupied and would allow you some alone time on Sundays but clearly he needs someone to kick the ball with. You want to tell him to go outside and play with his siblings but you know at 7 years of age he considers himself too old for the company of his 4 year old siblings. You long for the good old Sundays when you could take long drives to inhale the fresh country air, or meet friends up for nyama choma (sans family) or just hook up with the boys for banter. You wish you could enjoy the only remaining about –to-be-lost-too pleasure of reading the Sunday paper cover to cover but you know you can only read about 5 pages before the kids interrupt. You hold the paper aside and lower your new glasses to scrutinize these 3 little human beings whose entire existence is pegged to your very own existence. These little human beings who, in the short time which they have been on this earth have managed to drain all form of solitariness from your previously self contained life. Your thoughts are interrupted by the twins who are fighting over the crayons again. Feisty Joy wants to keep all the crayons to herself and her brother is determined to show her that quiet does not mean pushover. Your perfected fatherly mediation skills come into play as you divide the crayons equally between them while giving a brief lecture on the importance of sharing at the same time sternly threatening not to buy more crayons or toys if this behaviour persists. Your wife Ruth emerges from the kitchen to see what is going on. She sees Michael and the visibly irate twins and suggest (more like commands) that you to take the kids outside for a little football. It will cheer everyone up plus the kids will be much hungrier for the chicken she is currently preparing in the kitchen. You obey without any objections.
Later you think about this woman; this woman that came into your life by chance; this woman who is the determinant of all activities in your house; this woman who knows which shirt you wear on Mondays and who folds yours socks into tiny little neat balls ( as if socks need folding); this woman who knows when your kids are sick and when the lawn needs trimming; this woman who visits your mother up country with overflowing Nakumatt shopping bags; this woman who knows when things are not okay with you; this woman who has always been a shoulder to lean on. You miss the single days, the bachelor life days, they were good days, fine days, days you would want to relive, read that newspaper from cover to cover without one of your brats (as you jokingly refer to them) interrupting or wifey dragging you to a colleague’s (whom she calls a family friend) baby shower. But you look at your family as you all sit round the dining table chatting, laughing and munching away at the delicacies your wife has whipped up and you realize just how much you love your family. You are reminded just how much personal growth you have attained because of them. This house that you built from scratch, all the money that you’re paying and saving for school, the land you just bought and the many other investments would probably not be there if not for them. They motivate you to be a better man. You will be the best that you can for them. It’s not like you can go back to your old life anyway, your knees can no longer take a whole night of dancing like they used to and the last time you listened to a new song was the year 2000. In that moment, the interruptions and the nagging feel trivial compared to the joy your wife and kids bring you. You smile as you serve another piece of chicken and notice your growing potbelly all from wifey’s irresistible cooking.
Jackline heard the distorted racket of men baying for blood outside the flat. Instinctively, she sensed that something sinister was about to unfold. With swift movement, she leaped up from the couch where the man, whose name she did not know was snoring in faltering snorts and made her way to the window. Tactfully, she lifted a small corner of the dirty, brown, bed- sheet- cum -curtain and peered outside. There was no one outside the door but she could hear the marching men and their loud fraught voices downstairs near the gate. The feeling of imminent danger gripped her entire body as she moved back from the window and blindly started looking for the house keys.
Faith dashed into the room a second later the same terror written all over her usually brown, now pink, face. Sharing a quick knowing glance with Jackline, she walked over to the sleeping man and began shaking the sleep out of him.
“Wake up! Where are the keys? Your keys? Wake up! Wake up! The keys!” Faith demanded, shaking and slapping the limp, half naked, man on the face.
The man, in a drunken stupor barely opened his eyes. His drooping hand tried to wave Faith away as he mumbled incorrigibly and slumped back on the torn sofa. Desperate, she tried to exert further force by inflicting shrill, successive slaps on the man’s cheeks.But he neither winced nor stirred.
Jackline was now tearing the small living room apart throwing things across the dim stuffy room. She looked over the faded mustard cupboard. where the tiny TV with gigantic looking pair of antennas was placed but she couldn’t find them. She then tried the double door drawers with rusted metal bars.One of doors loose off its hinges, fell on her foot crushing her toes painfully but she was in too much of a panic to nurse the pain. Inside the musty drawers, she found old, rusty, metallic cups, a few china plates and mixture of crockery and cutlery that reminded her of the 70’s and wondered why anyone would still have such outdated items. Next, she searched under the bright pink flowerpot holding a fake plastic money-plant whose thin stem was wound round the entire room, crossing the walls, then center of the room twice. Nothing. Impulsive expletives escaped her as she ransacked everything and anything she could get her hands on, moving hastily from thing to thing futilely.
Faith, having given up on the drunkard, was busy turning over cushions, peeling off the floor the torn edges of the flowery green plastic carpet, tossing aside old newspapers and frayed magazines. The only things she had managed to unearth so far were women’s dirty undergarments and several filthy, used condoms rotting under the wet plastic carpet. She wrenched trying to stop last night’s still- fresh -in her -stomach alcohol from making its way out of her mouth. The living room was barely three steps wide on all directions, but the keys were proving untraceable to the utter frustration of both women who eyed each other hopelessly. Suddenly,Jackline realized that the cacophony outside had died down in an instant. She could barely make out the familiar voice of the woman, whom Jackline could hear speaking as though addressing the mob.Jackline whispered a small prayer hoping that the men, whatever it is they wanted, had dispersed and all was okay. The prayer however, did not erode the foreboding as she squatted on the floor to search for the keys under a sofa. Unable to find them in the living room,the two women took to the bathroom, the kitchen and the small bedroom. But still they could not find them.
The hush of their disquiet was suddenly interrupted by the eruption of cheers, screams and incoherent singing as the newly re energized mob began to charge upstairs. Faith’s hand, damp with sweat, slipped subconsciously into Jackline’s, a cold frission of terror passing between them. The two women stared blankly at each other, either too petrified to say a word. What elevated their fear was the fact that, as they stood in the bedroom fused to the floor motionless, neither of them was one hundred percent sure sure whether it was they, this mob was coming for or whether something different was unfolding .Yet somehow, as one almost always senses to a certainty when danger is lurking; they were convinced that it had everything to do with them. The older woman from last night,all the questions she had asked her tone and manner reproachful…It had to be related to what was happening outside.The way the woman had paced about the hallway outside as though plotting, yet undecided, before hastily retreating to her house downstairs.She must have said something to someone.In their quiet thoughts, each woman was cursing herself, regretting why she had agreed to come to this place.
The mob was advancing and their chants intensified. Jackline could now hear them on the third floor, which was a mere two floors below them. She had counted last night,five floors, as the 3 of them staggered loudly up the stairs, plastered from cheap liquor. This habit of taking in details, was something she had gotten accustomed to years ago out of precaution. Not that she customarily visited strangers houses, but there was the occasional lure and for that she felt she had to be extra vigilant.
‘Let’s wake him up,’ Faith leaped out of the bedroom door, making for the living room, Jackline hot on her heels.
The man, still on the couch, had now rolled over and was sleeping on his side, his head hanging off the edge of the sofa. A long string of thick saliva drooped from one side of his half open mouth. The loud snorting from earlier had been replaced by a soft, intermittent whirr that started from his nose and escaped through his mouth. Jackline felt an orb of near tangible disgust roll up her throat and sour her mouth as she looked at him lying there drunk, useless,unruffled by all the commotion. They rattled and rattled him ceaselessly, but the bloke would not stir, not even open an eyelid halfway.
He lay there dead.
Jackline felt her heart stop.Her eyes roved over the body and she let her hands fall dejectedly on the top of her head. A low gurgle of horror slipped out of Faith’s lips as she let go of the man’s body from on top of the couch where she was standing over him.
In one torpid move, the man’s body rolled over from the couch to the floor and out of the back pocket of his sky blue,faded, oversize shorts fell his wallet, house keys attached.
Faith shot from the top of the couch, snatched the keys, knowing all too well that this was life or death for them. The coppery end of the wire from the spiral key ring caught on the man’s shorts as she yanked them, pulling down the man’s shorts and in the process exposing round, coffee brown, emaciated buttocks that resembled two starved half moons. The man’s naked body reeked of cheap alcohol, cigarettes, poor hygiene, rotten food, sweat and disaster. Jackline tried to roll the man’s lower body over to untangle the keys, questioning how she had allowed herself to come home with this dud. Faith meanwhile, was busy separating the other bit of the key ring from the wallet while blocking out the dread inundating her mind. The women were so absorbed in trying to free the keys when the door blew open with such force that they both reeled back in surprise and raw terror. The drunk man, roused by the door slamming against the wall, rolled on his back, exposing to all his miniscule, limp penis, before nodding off again.
A man in a faded lime- green sports t-shirt and black trousers, one leg rolled above his knee and the other barely touching his ankle, stood by the door legs apart. His eyes were transfixed on the two women as though cast in a spell.A dark brazen face with small, tight lips and brown sunken eyes. Resting heedlessly on his left side, was a panga, its pointed tip slightly clawing at his exposed calf. The fingers on his free hand were tapping rhythmically at his thin upper thighs. He only glared, saying nothing. Before they could take in his entire threatening form, a boisterous mob of about thirty men came up behind him shouting excitedly and jostled the man into the room .Spotting Jackline, Faith and the naked man all sprawled on the floor they euphorically started out shouting each other ‘leo tumewapata’ ‘malaya hawa’ ‘wamemuua’ ‘wamemuwekea madawa’ ‘wanamuibia’ ‘siku za mwizi ni arubaine’ ‘watu wataumia leo’.They declared war.
The man in the lime green t-shirt and black pants suddenly jerked forward grabbing Jackline by her white blouse, as the top buttons on her blouse scattered in every direction. An ecstatic uproar tore through the room. Jackline felt herself being pulled this way and that way.Hands, whose faces she could not make out in the ruckus, fondled, groped, and molested her entire body tagging at her exposed nipples, pushing between her thighs, her hair and every inch of her body that they could get hold of.She tried to fight but the hands were too many, too strong, as the men encircled and trapped her. She felt a sudden, strong sharp pain tear through the left side of her face as someone hit her with a blunt object sending her body into a dizzy, blinding spiral. Everything became fuzzy and the noises in the room ebbed into background murmurs. Her knees buckled and her weight collapsed cripplingly on the floor.
PART 2 COMING SOON!
Seriously! How the hell did I get here?! Where did time run off to? I’ve barely accepted or enjoyed 26 and this Saturday 18th of April I will be turning 27. Gasp! How did that even happen! Supposing there were candles on a cake I’d have to blow all friggin 27 of them! How long would that take? Would we need a math equation to calculate that? Damn! I feel ancient and rusty!
You know you’re old when you start writing blogs about how old you are. A party would normally suffice in younger years. Seems like just the other day, when I was lamenting and whining about being 25.Then came 26.Now my late 20s are here with me and boy do they come with high expectations! Expectations not only from myself but also mostly from society. After 27,nobody’s willing to let you off the hook easy for playing anything short of an adult. There’s all sorts of back breaking obligations and nerve wrecking pressure to fulfill various life demands. I can already feel the heat spike and its scary.
Looking back from when I was 20, it certainly feels like I’ve done pretty badly in so much of what I had set out to achieve by 27. In past predictions of what the future would look like, I’d imagined myself in the heart of a blossoming career by now or at the very least, something close to one. But as fate, tough luck, bad choices or whatever it is that determines the path of a (wo)man would have, I have no career to speak of and this worries me deeply. Two years after working in HR and Admin , I figured it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life and so I quit. I’d also previously assumed that I’d have a masters degree under my belt by 27 but again that hasn’t happened either. Its been almost 6 fast-flying months since I quit my job. Dreams of getting into project management remain exactly that, dreams. Dreams of writing successfully have also taken a backseat if not withered completely. A good career has and always remains perched at the very top of my life’s priorities scale. To not have one at 27 is by all means a sign of failure on my part and this has been a cause of so many sleepless nights and painful mental ulcers. My mind is bogged with questions of what future career prospects look like and failure is definitely not an option. But how to get there? It is depressing to think about frankly.
The last time I was in a relationship I was 20. It was my first and only relationship. I constantly have people asking me why I don’t date and in return I always have some excuses to offer. The truth however is that my reluctance to date is driven by two things; my fear of commitment and my inability to maintain relationships with people. As far as I can remember, I’ve always struggled to make and retain friends or form any close friendships. I never had a best friend in my life just a few close acquaintances in school . I am a guarded person who enjoys spending loads of time by myself. Friendships and other relationships require time, dedication and loads of compromise which unfortunately I selfishly hoard. Allowing other people to have that kind of unlimited access to me and knowing the high possibilities of such relationships ending (as they always do) is a river I’d rather not dip my feet into. Going back to dating, the 20s are glamorized as the best years to experiment with different kinds of relationships, test this and that, kiss as many frogs in hope of finding that one prince and so on… having gone through 6 years of my 20s single, I definitely feel like I might have missed out on a lot. I’m not sad about it though, nor I’m I preoccupied with finding a Mr. Right but sometimes I’m curious as to whether one day I’ll look back and wish i’d have dated more in my 20s.
Besides the above, there’s been a lot of other things to deal with along the way too; overcoming esteem issues(confidence, weight, wanting to wear a bikini for the 1st time… I know!) planning finances, thinking children and so on. Problems that cannot be solved in a day and that require time. But its not all been negative. I’ve seen myself grow and learn so much in the last two years. Things that have made me a much better person I believe. It is these things and even better things that I aspire to pursue as the years add on. Its my wish that I will get many opportunities to do so.
27 is here and to be honest I’m nervous about it. However, going by psychologist Erik Erickson Development Stages, I’m reassured that these issues; careers, relationship, identity etc are normal concerns that plague people in this age bracket . He calls it the Intimacy vs Isolation stage. My troubles are not unique to me (insert huge old sigh of relief) but something most people will continuously fret about as they navigate through this stage of their lives. The thing that I feel I must do is, draw a line between what is innately my own desire to achieve and attain my goals versus what society demands of me as a woman in my late 20s. History has proven that people will employ all kinds of tactics and jump into all kinds of antics trying to fulfill expectations laid for them by others. People- pleasers eventually crumble from all the pressure. This is a route I would rather not navigate. I’m in no position to offer anyone expert advice, but I strongly believe in following my own advice in the hope that the future will look much better. I am grateful for life. 26 did feel lackluster and undefined… so, come here 27!I’m ready for you!
Happy Birthday to me!!
I just finished reading a brilliant at the same time preposterously idealistic book by Ayn Rand titled ‘Atlas Shrugged’. What stood out for me about the book was the lead character Dagny Taggart, Vice President of Operations for a railroad company, who defies great obstacles thrown at her by a bunch of cowardly, lazy and outright stupid men who run the economy and political affairs of the state. The thing that makes Dagny quite special is the fact that, Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957,a period when women were confined to the running of household affairs. A woman running a railroad company and successfully for that matter, was unheard of. But Ayn Rand was way ahead of her time, creating a strong, intelligent and decisive female character that almost always outmaneuvers her male opponents. Ayn Rand, also exuded literary brilliance in how she allows the character of Dagny Taggart to be strong in a way almost, always, exclusively equated to men. And despite this Dagny never loses some of her feminine traits as is expected of any woman occupying the roles traditionally reserved for men.
Somewhere in the middle of the book, I had to run to Google to confirm what I imagined to be 100% true. That Ayn Rand was a feminist. But oh the horror! The first response that came up on my Google search, was a You Tube video of Rand in denouncing feminism in an interview with the statement “I am a male chauvinist. I am profoundly anti-feminist because it’s a phony movement.”
It seemed almost impossible for me to comprehend how a woman, who was so ahead of her time,who penned a female character that had sexual agency during a time when the feminist issues revolved around women’s suffrage (way before issues of sexual agency emerged with 2nd wave of feminism) could deny feminism so blatantly! Super sigh! Disappointment.
Rand’s work however brilliant not is without feminist critique. There is the presence of the distinguishing feature of the 1st wave of feminism where, white-middle class women’s idea of empowerment was purported to be the occupation of the very positions of power occupied by white, middle class, wealthy men. This is reflected in Dagny’s occupation, her attitude towards work, her austerity and emotional ruthlessness towards her enemies. Other criticism lies in Rand’s sexual politics which can be viewed through a patriarchal lens .Despite Dagny’s hardy approach to life, she seems to submit with much inferiority to the men in her life, a trait that is inconsistent with her non romantic life. A Quora discussion on Feminism and Rand, reveals similar instances in her other works where female characters hero worship the men. She, Rand, also seems to be an enthusiast of masochism (nothing wrong with this) as reflected in every sexual episode in Atlas Shrugged.The men employ violence ways with Dagny; force, biting,pulling, blood, shoving and so on with little opposition from her.It becomes difficult to draw a line where agency ends and violence begins. Further criticism arises from the fact that most of the other female characters presented in the book come across as inferior and weak in comparison to men.This again is a contradiction with the strong character she creates with Dagny. In one of her interviews,Rand expressed disgust at the idea of a woman being a president in real life.This opposing takes on women,make her a confusing author to deconstruct.
This perplexing conflict where Rand devises a feminist character while she herself denounces feminism reminds me of similar, everyday situations with the women in our lives; friends, sisters, mothers, acquaintances and all other women we interact with in general. What are their views on feminism? It is of paramount importance that society allow women to define for themselves what is oppressive and what is not and in doing so allow them the freedom to join groups or movements that they find fulfilling. We (feminists) cannot force or push women to pledge allegiance to feminism if they are unable to see how it benefits them.As a reflection of a common contradiction, how many women do we encounter every day who will decry feminism as a movement and yet we constantly witness them engage in many of the so called feminist acts whether consciously or not?
It’s hard to confine feminism within a single definition that goes beyond the words equality. My experiences are not another woman’s experiences and what is patriarchal to me is not to another. Ayn Rand was an individualist who believed in due merit and honor for any individual who worked hard; man or woman. By her own words she was not a feminist but some of her fictional characters together with their actions are definitely feminist. Individualism, poses the danger of fragmenting any collective consciousness towards the common objective of equality for all women. There are countless women who are constantly fighting patriarchy and oppression but will not associate with feminism. Some not by their own fault but because of the negative connotations attached to feminism as a movement and others because such understanding is beyond their capabilities especially where feminism is discussed in academia lingua.It is a challenge.
It doesn’t however necessarily mean that, taking up labels such as feminist without any work will change anything or that in any case one must take up labels. But how then do we reconcile then two? The work of women engaging in feminism work but refusing to recognize feminism, with that of feminists seeking a helping hand from their sisters who don’t identify as feminists? All this for the benefit of all women.
“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences ~ Audre Lorde
I never knew just how scared of being stripped naked in public I was, until I watched videos of women being stripped naked. Its a real,ever present,all consuming fear,etched at the back of your mind that you live with and that your everyday life revolves around. Every outfit that I’ve worn since I was a teenager capable of making my own wardrobe choices, has been carefully picked as a precaution against causing a man of ‘good intention’ somewhere, along my daily trajectory, to get too sexually excited, pushing him to either strip me naked (and with it deliver rational doses of human decency) or rape me in a bid to relieve himself of the great discomfort caused by my body. This great discomfort apparently brought about by two inches of bare thigh above my knees.
It’s not easy to wake up every other day and plan your wardrobe choices along the personal tastes of strangers. Strangers whose choices are so fluid, so dynamic and so varied that you have to constantly keep tabs on who wants what, where and how. These self appointed moral police are out there in every space of our society and they delight in enforcing decency in the most humiliating of ways. Before heading out of the house on any given day, I am forced to make countless runs to the mirror just to make sure that today is not the day I use my Jezebel powers to lure rapist and street harassers to vandalize my body. It entails the works; Adjust a bra here and there so that no one can actually guess whether I have breasts or not, tag relentlessly at a hemline to make sure that it’s just at the right length (not actually sure what right length is), fasten a belt too tightly, wrap a shawl across my cleavage, make sure that my pants are not too tight, make sure that my lipstick is not too slutty or that my eyebrows are not too inviting. Generally, I have to strictly ensure that nothing about me suggests ‘open for violation today.’ This ritual of counter checking, is an unpleasant, meticulous routine that most women have learned and perfected over the years. Simply put , ’ How not to look Rape-able or Strippable or Assaultable’.
Watching what you wear as a woman is not a task that allows you the privilege of choice. It is a compulsory, taught, repeated, learnt and internalized art of self protection. But even with so much practice and time injected into making life easier for these so called ‘temptable’ men, women are still getting raped and stripped naked in public. Incident after incident of innocent women getting physically and/or sexually assaulted around the country, have saturated the news and social media platforms these last few weeks. They were heinous ,inhumane acts of personal space violation orchestrated by unperturbed fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, friends against mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters and most importantly, human beings. As is always the case whenever a woman is the subject of a crime, ensuing discussions have centered on victim blaming and shaming. “She knew she was indecent!
How dare she dress like that knowing how easy us men are to tempt!
She does not respect herself!
If she had dressed better it wouldn’t have happened to her!
It doesn’t happen to Muslim women and other well covered women! I would strip her too!
She deserved it”
and so on are some of the arguments used to declare the guilt of victims.
The horrifying thing is that these bile loaded, accusatory words have spilled from women too. One would assume that potential victims and victims would defend other victims. It’s only rational to assume that women would defend other women’s wardrobe choices. But this is not always the case. As a woman, it’s quite easy to convince yourself that the reason you have never been stripped naked, raped or assaulted is because you have molded yourself into a respectable, decent person and that other women who are victims of assault have brought it upon themselves. They, the victims, asked for it. Allow me to be the one to bust your safety bubble by informing you that your decency has nothing to do with you not having been assaulted . In all honesty, its only a matter of only sheer luck that you remain unscathed. You are but only temporarily fortunate and for this you should be thankful if only halfheartedly because, even good luck runs out.
As inhabitants of patriarchal societies that thrive on the oppression and silencing of women, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many women are blind to what the system has transformed them into; silent acquiescing machines of sorts. We are programmed to function in a particular rectilinear way .Oppression is about power and hegemony. It involves the subjugation, dehumanization and ‘propertization’ of others. The oppressed are denied the ability and capacity to decide what’s best for themselves (including dress choice) because they are viewed as inferior and irrational. If examined from this same angle, you then realize that choosing decency is never out of your own freewill but as compliance to a rule that patriarchy has imposed on women. You are just as choiceless as the women you consider indecent. Both of you, decent or indecent have a policing system to answer to. That one day when the gatekeepers of decency shall decide that you are indecent on the streets, your past records of excellent decency and respectability won’t save you from getting stripped and assaulted.
Decision making denial amounts to violations of both public and personal spaces in the lives of the oppressed. If we are to examine the rationale behind publicly stripping women naked on grounds of indecency, it becomes clear that this practice is a chip off the block that is oppressive politics. It has nothing to do with what you wear. It all comes down to how much unrestricted power (I as a person wielding power) have over you as an inferior, powerless person. Once again, your choice of dress and your sense of decency cum respect will never protect you because, for an oppressive system to be upheld, oppression must be continuous. Victims of oppression must never fall short in supply. And if oppression is a continuous cycle, then it becomes imperative that we realize, our notions of safety nested in maintaining respectability or decency won’t protect us for long. Our turns are only but imminent.
Dressing and dress politics are just but examples of the plethora of ways through which control is exercised over women. Religion and invocations of deviation from African traditions are the pillars used to buttress domination. How hard can it possibly be to let a woman wear what she thinks suits her best? How can we strip women naked on the grounds of indecency and somehow give men a free pass on the same? Isn’t this a classic case of how oppressors effect unfair rules that they themselves cannot and do not adhere to?
Litigation alone cannot be a holistic approach towards addressing the criminality that is stripping of women naked in public. It cannot be fully relied on as a tool to stop the physical and sexual assault of women. The solution lies in dismantling patriarchal systems, dissolving oppression and seeing women as human beings capable of making autonomous,rational decisions for themselves. We are responsible for the crafting and perpetuation of patriarchy both as men as women. The task of overseeing its demise is therefore not a preserve of women but one that involves all of us in society. We can either try to take the whole system down in one go (almost impractical) or gradually destroy components of the system until the whole structure crumbles with time.
On Monday 17th November, a group of over 600 Kenyans, both men and women took to the streets in Nairobi in a peaceful protest dubbed ‘My Dress, My Choice.” It was the unified voice of Kenyan women, supported by Kenyan men, expressing and affirming their right to exist, their right to be respected, their right to be treated as human beings and their right to justice. They marched in support of women who have been victims of public stripping incidents; Women robbed of their dignity under the false pretenses of indecency. They marched for themselves and their unborn daughters. They marched for millions of Kenyan women who continue to suffer under the oppressive systems of our patriarchal society. They marched for justice. They marched for ‘Their choices first then their dresses and any other choices they make as a Kenyan women ‘. Along the way, they were attacked by the proponents of the status quo but they never stopped marching. The men protected them. This was a first step, a starting place that ushered in a new solidarity, a cohesion geared towards affirming THE RIGHT TO BE AND TO LIVE for Kenyan women. It was a new beginning where Kenyan women held hands and swore to fight for their Rights and their humanity. It’s a flame that can only be fueled into a fire and it can only get better from here. #MyDressMyChoice
Dysfunction (noun): Abnormality or impairment in the function of a system.
I went to bed at 5:00 am this morning because I was enjoying glass upon glass of Gin and Tonic. I like Gin and Tonic; gets me giddy and warm without the punishment of a hangover, which I’m too old for anyway. Other than just enjoying my poison of choice, I was up late because I’m on a three week break from work and I can wake up and sleep as I like. It is my right. So I was up reliving my campus days,courting insomnia and showing her-insomnia- who the daddy is. I finally succumbed to sleep when my motor skills almost brought me to the point of shattering fine China.
At about 8:00 am I was stirred awake by the sound of horns, drums, trumpets, accordions and such other musical instruments that my 8-4-4 curriculum could not find time to teach me about despite countless hours of morning, lunchtime, evening and holiday tuition .My white blinds fluttered like the wings of an angel and I felt terrified. The first thought that came to mind was “Oh lord! Judgment day is here and I’m going to spend eternity roasting in hell over a cheap bottle of Gin! Not Hennessy or anything fancy… Gin!”
But my senses were restored in a matter of minutes and I realized that the music was coming from a church (and by church I mean people minus a building) that had recently set shop right across my house. At this point I let out a tirade of unprintables and sat up knowing too well that there was no way I was going to sleep through that much noise .It has been like this for the last six Sundays now. I live in a gated community where no one is allowed to set up a business/church/mosque without the approval of the residents association. This is always how things are done here. However, my neighbour whose land has been lying idle for years decided to lease out his land to a church without seeking the permission of the residents association or even considering how this would affect the rest of us. A DYSFUNCTIONAL NEIGHBOUR.
Now this church has about 15 worshipers at most but they use sound equipment capable of addressing a multitude of all CORDs and Jubilee’s supporters gathered in one sitting. Sometimes I think they lady pastor is actually trying to address God directly with that loudspeaker she uses. On the day they conducted their first service, I was intensely bothered by the noise the church was generating especially because I’m a very light sleeper and because Sundays are my only free days so I need all the rest I can get. I went to the church with one of my neighbours and asked them politely to reduce the noise since we couldn’t even hear each other in our own houses. The lady pastor was rude and informed us with all the attitude she could muster that, her God was bigger than any of us or any residential associations. Any attempts to reason with her were met with hostility and so we let her be. DYSFUNCTIONAL CHRISTIANS.
I decided to call up the chairman of the residents association for help. He promised to go talk to them. Talk to them why? It is illegal for them to be here, don’t talk to them.Use your authority and kick them out. That is why you were elected and handed powers to deal with such inconveniences, not negotiate… Sigh! Anyway, after a week or so and after “talking to them” nothing changed. The church services in fact grew longer and the noise got louder. I tried contacting the Chairman again; he couldn’t be less bothered to act. A DYSFUNCTIONAL RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION.
The other neighbours were also getting tired of the noise but they couldn’t also be bothered to do anything about it beyond the casual complaining. They did that Kenyan thing we love so much …accepted and moved on. DYSFUNCTIONAL CITIZENS.
My next stop was NEMA (National Environmental Management Authority). If you can remember well, the guys at NEMA spent the better half of 2013 chest thumping about how they would deal with all sorts of noise pollution by arresting responsible persons. They spent huge amounts of your tax money running expensive radio and TV ads calling on citizens to report any incidences of noise disturbance. And so I did. My complaint was promptly received and I was assured that it would be passed on to the relevant department and I should expect feedback within 3 days. I waited and a week later no response was forthcoming. So I called back. My complaint had not been forwarded to the relevant persons I was told. Not only that but the lady I had spoken to had emitted one little crucial piece of information, that NEMA no longer deals with cases of noise pollution. What?
Yes. Noise was now being handled by the Ministry of Environment, the person I was speaking to informed me. So the lady I had first spoken to, goes to work sits in an office, earning a salary every month but does not even know her job or what goes on in her company . DYSFUNCTIONAL EMPLOYEE. I was then given a number to call at the Ministry of Environment. They would assist I was promised. I called several times. No one picked up. I went to the Ministry’s website in search of more contact details. Here I found out that NEMA works under this same ministry and according to the website, cases of noise pollution should be forwarded to NEMA and not the ministry. What is going on here? DYSFUNCTIONAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.
I am getting tired of being taken round in circles by now so I decide to try the police (don’t look at me like that, a girl is allowed some wishful thinking) for help. I head to the Kenya Police website and I’m pleasantly surprised that, one, they have a website to begin with and two that all police stations in the country are listed in alphabetical order with corresponding numbers for the station, the OCS, OCPD and even a hotline for emergencies. So I try the nearby police station …sorry number not in use. I try two other numbers for the same station. They ring and ring but nobody picks up. I try again, the lines are now disconnected. I call three other nearby stations including Central Police Station. Same story…no one picks up. I proceed to dial 911. Someone picks up immediately. I ask for working telephone numbers for my local police station. I am given the same numbers that were not going through. I explain this and I am told that there is nothing they can do but I can try calling again later. What? I cringe imagining if this had been a life or death situation. DYSFUNCTIONAL STATE SECURITY.
So basically, I am here nursing a slight headache, typing this article as the church members continue to sing, pray and shout oblivious of the inconvenience they are causing everyone else. They know that nothing can happen to them in a country where everything is dysfunctional. We are all dysfunctional as citizens, organizations, agents of state, governments and so forth.Always relinquishing responsibility to the next person and creating a cycle of non performance and ineffectiveness. Why can’t we just do the right thing as is required of us? WOULD WE DIE IF WE ATTEMPTED TO BE FUNCTIONAL FOR ONCE?
As for my sleep, I will try catch a snooze later once they are done with the service at 5pm. Fml
My Guest Article on Someone’s Blog
Relationships….one word, millions of reactions. When it comes to relationships, opinions come in all shapes and sizes from the do’s and don’ts, the roles that are to be played by each partner, expectations and what the ultimate relationship should consequently amount to. Our impression on these things is far from ubiquitous and what works for one person is abhorrent to another. One thing that seems almost always universally acceptably however, is the notion that a relationship should be initiated by the man (my focus is solely on heterosexual relations). This idea is rooted so deep in us that it is almost absolute. It comes so naturally and we obey it with unquestionable reverence.
Once upon a time, I really liked this guy. They say that women can tell a few minutes into the first encounter with a man whether he is a road worth treading on or not. He was…
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