CRIMINAL TILL FRISKED INNOCENT.

The day was hot; extremely hot. Normally, this would not hold much importance. Except on this particular day he’d spent close to four hours waiting for clients who returned each call with an earnest “We are on the way. Just give us thirty more minutes.” So he waited at the infamous Uhuru Park and tried hard not to gawk at irate parents flanked by over-excited kids who were swarming the park.

At long last, a befuddled man and wife rushed in tagging along a brother in-law, two seven-year old nephews and a very much dependent and irritable grandfather. They had agreed, earlier that week, that Jack would shoot their second-year anniversary photos; just the man and wife. The meeting time was set at 10:00 am and the shoot should have taken approximately four hours.

When the call came Jack practically jumped at the opportunity. Business had been slow. His usually meagre savings were practically non-existent. He needed to get his hands on some much-needed money, whatever way he could get some and this photoshoot was so timely he almost wept when the call came. When the clients did not show until after three hours then proceeded to wrangle and yell at the the kids for one more hour before settling down for the photoshoot, Jack maintained his cool and seethed quietly. It helped a great deal that these were paying clients and with the unannounced additions, albeit exhausting, he knew he was looking at more money. So as the sun scorched and seemed to particularly target his forehead, Jack worked at encouraging brighter smiles and getting viciously active seven-year olds to stay still for shots.

After the shoot, and eight grand richer than he had been earlier that day, an exhausted Jack trudged back home with his photography equipment taking years off his life. He was hungry and haggard.  And unsurprisingly had a craving for sausages. The decision to stop by a supermarket and grab a packet was immediate and quite automatic – after the day he’d just had, he deserved to eat sausages if he so wished. The plan was simple: Get to the house, shower, eat the sausages (whole packet ofcourse), nap then get down to editing the photos; these paying clients also happened to be very impatient.  

Darting into the supermarket, he was so tired he failed to notice the guard at the entrance watching him a little too closely. His bag pack carrying his precious cargo stayed with him; he was not going to hand his equipment over at the bags counter and risk having them banged up. He was in and almost out in less than five minutes. He walked in, made a beeline for the meaty goodies, grabbed a pack that would cost him somewhere around Kes 400 then dutifully joined the shortest queue at the paying counters. Two people were in front of him. At the counter, as he waited to be served, he absently added two packs of gum to his list and again failed to notice the guards (the one was now joined by another) who were both watching him keenly. He paid and on his way out, right at the exit, was interrupted by a curt summon by the taller of the two guards.

“Kijana, kuja hapa” barked the man. Jack looked up and into two pairs of angry eyes. He obliged. In his hands he was clutching his unbagged pack of sausages – the gum had disappeared somewhere inside the pockets of the baggy sweatpants he was wearing.

“Umenunua nini?” the second one demanded.

Jack held out the pack of sausages. He knew what was about to come. Had lived it too many times; especially since he’d decided to grow his hair out into dreads. The mild headache he had been nursing the whole afternoon gained momentum and quietly gonged at his temples with each question the guards threw at him. People were starting to stare, a few had stopped. The pat down was about to come. His bag would be turned inside out and ransacked. And he would likely have to provide identification to ascertain his claims.

The first time he was stopped was at a bank, a local bank he had been a customer of for close to two years. The guard at the entrance stopped him and insisted on patting him down then proceeded to ask what services he sought. Usually (and when spotting a clean shaved head) Jack would have walked in uninterrupted and directed any questions he might have had at the customer care desk. But that was rare; because usually he had very specific needs that absolutely needed him to physically present himself at the bank. The guard at the entrance had no real reason for questioning him. A miffed Jack was finally let in after showing what was in his bag, flashing his ID and atm card and clearly explaining what he needed to get.

That first time he was so hugely offended. On his way out he yelled at the guard and demanded answers and went as far as threaten to move his small money to a different bank. They placated him (the guard and a bank attendant) half-heartedly and with their eyes averted from his sprouting dreads dyed part blond at that time. He walked away glad to have stood for himself and put some silly stereotypes to rest. He would come to a shocking realisation less than two weeks later. This time it was at an electronics shop. He needed a particular type of Bluetooth headphones and when he walked in, one of the attendants followed him around and pain keen attention to everything he touched.

The third time (at a restaurant) then fourth time (trying to secure a taxi) he had these encounters he made peace with the fact that he simply was not trustworthy because he had dreads, happened to not have a lot of money and generally dressed on the baggy side. It no longer surprised him whenever he was forced to explain himself but the sting and humiliation struck true and clear each time. Today, he answered questions and wished he was not on the guard’s direct line of bad breathe. What he wanted were bloody sausages and the comfort of his house. It should not have been much to ask for but when were things ever easy?

SELINE (II)

(It has been so long since I put up the first part of this post you probably do not remember ; or never read it 😂😂. Find it here : seline.)

This man with the grey skin and unsmiling eyes stared dispassionately at an exasperated Seline. Pen in hand poised to take her statement, he continued to poke holes at what was a reasonably straight forward account of events. His remarkably inexpressive face was touched only by his frown which grew deeper with each “Are you sure?”.  He said the information had to be right, and Seline mistook that for true.

By right, he wanted Seline to explain, in as few words as possible, what SHE had done to CAUSE the assault. Up until now, Seline had assumed the process would be simple. And that Mose, the perpetrator, would be apprehended shortly after. No less than 7 people could attest to the fact that she had been raped and physically assaulted. Mose of the slurred speech and knocking knees had himself acknowledged and bragged about it. There hadn’t been any doubt; until she was standing across this officer with only a desk and lots of exasperation and disbelief between them.  

And so, for the fourth time, Seline found herself explaining what happened. Which really was as simple as “A man came into our house and had his way with me. I would have reported earlier had I not been so scared.”

She found herself backed in a corner; why had she taken so long to come forward? The officer wanted to know.

The activities during and immediately after the assault had been hazy and dull. Her being pinned to the floor. And the blows that landed with each attempt to free herself. The pain as she lay there paralysed with fear and disbelief. Nyaarmama when she walked in, saw her and started wailing. The neighbours that rushed in, stared then went out to dutifully spread this spectacular morsel of gossip. All of it had been hazy. Somewhere along the way though, things got clear. Too clear. And as hard as she tried, she could not get past the events. It was particularly tough on her when said events chose to manifest at night while she slept. The nightmares always ended the same way; with her fighting hard to escape the entrapment of those sinewy arms. She would be in the house pouring yet another mug of chang’aa or outside running errands or at school and suddenly there would be a man pinning her to the ground and trapping her in the firmest of grips. The face was not always Mose’s; this depended on what topped her paranoia at the moment.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

When NyaarMama found her on the floor, it had been atleast an hour since a content and unconcerned Mose had stumbled away. On that floor, Seline knew she ought to get up and probably get help but somehow her legs would not budge. She stayed there, exactly as Mose had left her, in absolute pain and a rapidly swelling lip. That night Otis went out with a rungu and used it on a drunk Mose until it broke in half. Witnesses said Mose probably did not feel the pain; he was unsurprisingly shit-faced.

In that house, with Seline now quietly lying on the sofa, they pondered about what to do. All seven of them (five neighbours, NyaarMama and Sharon) agreed that Seline needed to be taken to the hospital. Most concern was directed at her quickly swelling lip though pain continued to throb from somewhere between her legs. Not one of them thought to ask Seline what she thought or felt or needed; choosing instead to speak over and around her as if she were not there. The only question directed at her was when one of the neighbours asked who had done it.

“Mose”, she mumbled then went back to being the subject of discussion.  

At long last it was decided that they should get some meds for the lip and take precautions to ensure she was not infected or worse, impregnated by that cursed Mose. Hatred and disgust was shared all around the room but so was the quiet acceptance that this kind of thing happened and the best way to deal was move forward and hope for the best.

A month later, a scared and sleep-deprived Seline decided to report the incident at a police station she knew all too well with cops she had watched her mom bribe and beseech numerous times. She reported because, she figured, maybe some kind of action against Mose would help with the nightmares and paranoia. Turns out even that was not all that easy; not with this noncommittal man examining her statement with quiet disregard.

in my feels.

BLURRY

Chinua Achebe once said, “Blind People do not learn to walk, they just do.” And I felt that.

.

You probably read that twice. Then realized it does not make a whole lot of sense. Because blind people, and learning to walk and they just do? What is that? No sane person says things like that; Chinua Achebe certainly did not (are you kidding, lol.) Also, there is nothing to feel from that jumbled mess. And for purposes of full disclosure, I haven’t felt things in a while. I am talking about things being really numb, and not just in the annoying way my feet lose nerve sensitivity when I sit on them. Anyway, that statement is a spectacular summary of what my mind has been going through these past few weeks – jumbled and confused with a hint of seriousness and a whole lot of fake-deep.

So what is the point of this short rumble? Probably nothing. But also a reminder that if your mind and life currently feel sticky and all tangled up, drink some lemon and ginger water. It helps clear your wind pipe and lungs and stuff with Covid-19 (or whatever Mutahi Kagwe said). And also you are not alone. Hang in there.

Stand your ground.

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I stood in front of the mirror, bare save for my sleeping shorts. My focus at the moment was on my love handles, very recently formidable and at that very moment spilling generously from the waist of the crumpled shorts I was wearing. The flinch that previously always accompanied my weight gain was long in the past. All that remained was offhand nonchalance. Over the past couple of months, as layer after layer of fat settled around my ribcage, there had been no guilt. No alarm or concern as more of my clothes got uncomfortably tight. The only concern arose when my heart heavily protested the numerous sedentary days and nights I spent lying on the sofa in my room. But the concern had been slight, so slight it was quickly buried in sleepy days spent lounging on the sofa and tucking away platefuls of food. When people goggled at the bunching of my (previously baggy) pants between my thighs and the pronounced sway of my rumbling hips, I chose not to care. I toyed with the idea of becoming a “big girl”. It could not be that hard, I reasoned. And either way, it really was no one’s business. I would drop the weight when I chose to.

Until I tried and could not last five minutes of beginner’s yoga.

What had started with season after season of terrible news had ended with me waking up at 11 a.m., alone and with no clue from where my next cheque was going to come from. The profuse weight gain and utter self-loathing seemed natural considering I was stuck in a hole with no clue or real desire to climb back out. Why the hell did everything have to revolve around money anyway? The attempt to get some semblance of order in my life was met with the realization that I had stayed down too long and dug the hole too deep. Climbing out was proving hard.

Thinking back, the climb down had been easy and well attended; encouraged even. They said, those nondescript twitter handles, that it was perfectly okay to eat away my feelings and stew. That if it was not working out I should walk away and that it was okay to feel the pain and desperation and hopelessness and stay in the comfort of letting things be. It was all normal; many people had been through it. Few mentioned how difficult climbing back out was. That the longer you stayed down, the harder it was to get up. Practically no one spoke of the fact that moping and self-pity was definitely not the needed response.

My advice, as we get into this second half of 2020, is that we fight. And hold on. That we try as hard as we can to stay afloat. The way I see it, putting in the work is the way to go. And even then, the fruits may never come; or they may come late and shrivelled and a pitiful downgrade to all the work you’ve put in.

(Side note: Fuck 2020 and adulting and this shitty miserable life. Maybe the remaining half will be better? Either way, to hell with all of it; entirely too many people are suffering and that is never okay.)

The Gift

gift qsn

There probably existed some rational explanation behind the immense mystery that continued to shroud this particular topic. And had anyone cared to explain, Meriena would finally be put out of her misery and let into the loop. As it turns out, no one did; choosing instead to dance around, tiptoe through or flat out refuse to engage in conversations involving the topic. The few times Meriena had dared ask questions, she had been met with anxiety, discomfort and mild annoyance. What she knew, you could ball up in a fist and swallow in one small gulp. She did know that the topic involved what was considered to be a gift; a really important gift (because, surely, whatever managed to elicit that kind of fear and mystery had to be important). She also knew the gift was an essential part of her, in the sense that within it lay her entire worth. On her own, Meriena had learnt that the gift was whimsical and could throw mean tantrums; that there were buttons to be pushed and corners to be explored. The gift also could tamper with her hormones. Mostly though, it sat quiet and dormant.

The many questions she had she had learnt to hold back because they made people squirm and nervous and had earned her serious tongue lashing from her mother once before. There was no written or confirmed interpretation of the gift. And it always surprised Meriena that no one ever questioned this astonishing ambiguity. The fragile foundation upon which the interpretation of the gift stood had not a single clearly written or openly spoken about or formally passed on directive. You learnt about it in the whispers and the casual jokes and the mildly dire warnings peppered in day to day conversation. The misfortunes that befell those who misused this gift was spoken of more. It was emphasized by women as they went about their chores and men as they clucked and muttered importantly about all the otherwise perfectly good children who had strayed. Meriena still struggled with understanding to whom the gift was meant and why it even was considered a gift.

Hard as she tried, she herself could not remember at what point she had come into the knowledge she had. The one and only time her mother had spoken about something involving the gift had been the time she told her to be careful around men now that she was a ‘full’ woman. This was when her periods started and the blood stains in her underwear seeped through to her school uniform and left a large stain which she washed off later that evening. The true stain, however, had been the embarrassing hooting and catcalling by boys and girls in her class as they fell over each other in mirth while pointing at the discriminating stain. This was the one and only time her mother talked about the gift and it was in such few words it was over before it even began.

It also marked Meriena’s introduction to the whims; most notably her monthly cycles.

The first sign was always the patch of dry skin between her eye brows which turned up exactly ten days before the flow. Then there were the moods which teetered in and out of her days with destructive abandon. And finally the pain which, like clockwork, came two days before the wet mess. It was uncomfortable pain which ravaged her lower abdomen and gave her diarrhoea and often caused thought-scattering migraines. On relatively good days, the barrage of painkillers she took allowed her to function through the hazy pain. Ugly days were spent in bed keeling over in pain and praying for the passage of this seemingly senseless pain. With each cycle, Meriena questioned the “gift” title more. She knew all about the gore and pain that came with conventional childbirth. Really, how could a gift bring with it this much pain? Her mind boggled and her questions piled with each unanswered question.

Every so often she paused to give thanks that she possessed within her the one thing that continued to fascinate her so. Did other people struggle with the kinds of questions she had? But she had since learnt, because she had made it her business to always know. She had flipped through books and listened keenly to the unspoken words whenever conversations touched on this taboo topic. And when the answers continued to be elusive, she launched into her own quest for knowledge. The books she read laid outrageous details and flabbergasting points of knowledge and when she exhausted the books, she ventured into her own exploration. It is in this exploration that she made discoveries. Her fingers, in the darkness of her room and the hardness of the mattress she slept on, introduced her to the pleasures of the gift; this suddenly precious gift. She was just now discovering unknown pleasures from mysterious depths that gave and gave and gave and gave. There was mortal terror that she would be found out. And anxiety that by the time she was ready for presentation to whoever her father deemed good enough, she would have used all the honey.

Because, surely, the infamous gift had to involve this dripping pleasure.

Just life. Or is it?

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Outside the building I live, right outside the gate, there is a stagnant gaping ditch full of black thick water; likely the product of several misdirected drainage systems. It smells, especially when it rains and it often bubbles over, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT RAINS. This gaping unsightly mess has been here probably for years. I personally cannot remember it not being there. Jumping over this muck each morning as I and many others scatter to various destinations has been my life as long as I can remember. That and blisters, horrible employment conditions, terrible houses, terrible hospitals, exploitative policies, seemingly paralyzed leaders and never working facilities. Days then weeks then months then years roll by and this life that continues to drag us through the mud goes on; together with the dormant ditch which seemingly no one ever thinks about. Not a single person ever wonders how it is that this eye sore continues to exist. No one. Not the little kids who play football inches from this sludge, or the mama fish who sells her products beside it each evening or the masses of people who would rather be inconvenienced than deal with clearing or covering it.

And so it has always been. Each frisky morning, having jumped over the first hurdle and as I join similar people wrought with purpose and determination, I encounter the usual. Near the matatu stage is Salome who sells chapatis. Her entire enterprise comprises of a stool, a jiko, a bucket, wheat flour, salt and cooking oil. Her livelihood lasts roughly four hours every morning. There is also Rehema who sells doughnuts next to Salome. All over the place, stray dogs wander; wary of getting in anyone’s way lest they get kicked and/or have stones hurled at them. As the day progresses, Maina will open his grimy hotel doors and across the street Safrima will set up her Chips Mwitu stand. Two feet away, the noisy salon and kinyozi shops will open up and so will the video shop. Things come to life slowly then quiet down late at night as everyone fades into their houses for the night. Generally, it is a tough, simple and robust life.

And here is how simple, robust and tough this life is. The other day when Mama Otis threw her fourth-born son a birthday party, I listened next door through a shared mabati wall as kids celebrated. The children, called out from whatever games they had been playing, crowded around the table, washing down cake with over-diluted orange juice while singing “Happy Birthday!”. Little Otis stood at the centre of it all, savoring the moment and completely over the moon. Later that same day, we half-watched half-listened as the women from door 7 and 9 exchanged loud and angry words over clothing lines. And when our hated landlord came (as he does at the end of each month) and locked out two tenants who could not come up with the Ksh 3,000 rent money, every one watched and waited until the fuming landlord left. Then Baba Naomi retrieved the iron-cutter from his welding shop and drilled open the offending padlock. Whenever KPLC employees came and cut out electricity for houses which hadn’t paid, someone later called a retired electrician who would promptly arrive and loop the cut out houses onto the ones still connected. And when Mainde from the furthest house lost his ailing father who had been living with him for months, everyone gathered and fund-raised and stayed up all night while drunkards danced to loud music until burial arrangements were completed.

It is not that we are chummy buddies and content to swelter in the collective misery that is poverty (in case that was implied). No. Not at all. We hate it here. Late at night while resting our exhausted limbs, we often dream of a better tomorrow; about some vague land filled with milk and honey. And to show that we are living up to our end of the bargain, we offer endless tithes and continue to fast. What we absolutely do not tolerate is insolence and cruelty. Everyone leads their lives but when Door 5 starts clobbering his wife, we all get out and yell at him to cut that shit out. And when Rukiya with her five children is unable to provide food, various houses put out extra plates for them. In these same rickety streets, brotherhoods and lifelong friendships are formed. Blissful, albeit lacking, children are brought up here. And our nights are long and satisfactory. Really, we just want to rest for the next round of assault.

Obviously, for those who insist on lumping us under one statistic, we feel pain and injustice. When we watch our young ones writhe in pain while stuck in long queues at public hospitals and later have to bury due to sicknesses that could have been treated, or when food is so scarce and we witness our kids look up to us for food we know we do not have, or when we endure countless and repeated humiliation at the hands of horrible employers, we feel all of that pain. More than you could ever imagine. Often I think about how extremely appropriate it would be if we had taps; let alone the kind that have running water. Or how helpful it would be if the relevant authorities did their job and ensured that when landlords erect houses they have the presence of mind to put up structures that will not come collapsing on our heads years down the line. It would be so nice and simply right if people who know absolutely nothing about the lives we lead would not sit on their high horses and seek to dictate how they think we should live our lives. Because right this instant, there is a raging debate about the stupidity of women from poor households who continue to give birth to many children. And this debate, as blindly and passionately as it is approached, reeks of privilege and self-righteousness. Poverty and most of the circumstances leading up to it, as I assume is common sense by now, is hardly ever the individual’s fault.

Let’s do better. All of us.

And in case it was not clear, I repeat, this kind of life is not easy.

be kind.

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It is discomfiting right? That nervousness that started mildly but has been gaining steady momentum with each episode of yet more bad news? The worry. And the nerve of our leaders! Them not rising to the occasion and handling things on time. (And us thoroughly birdboxing the fact that this is the same script we have read so many times before). It really is disconcerting. This having to live with not knowing what will/could/might happen. Witnessing people go through absolute uncertainty and being reminded how control really is an illusion. The helplessness may not have gotten to you yet. Because granted, you may still be able to hold your head above water. But surely you can see the destruction all around. Of people sick with worry and hopelessness. People not knowing what tomorrow holds. People still flaying for stability and whatever can pass for firm ground. And yet more terrified at whatever awaits them on the other side if at all.

Started out like a joke. Back when Corona was a far off cry; safely contained within China borders and associated with horrible images of wretched Chinese folk chomping on rodents and bats; when theories of Africans being immune to this flu were floating about. And you all smiled. And swapped yet more bizarre theories while turning a solid blind eye to our open borders and airports. Then they came and said the first case had been reported. And that, for what it was worth, you ought to be extra vigilant. At this point you worried, slightly, about your little kids and elderly family members, then settled in yet another theory that the government was reporting this case to gain access to grant money. It was all going to be alright. At work, you and other agitated colleagues started calling for staying at home directives because, well because you wanted to stay home and Corona was as good an excuse as any.

Around this time the first email came. Filled to the brim with corporate bureaucracy; these are very strange times- we are together- the company is adjusting and setting in motion emergency strategies- wash your hands- do not touch your face- be vigilant. With each confirmed case though, the worry escalated. Schools closed, various industries virtually halted, people stayed indoors. And a series of measures were put in place. The effects echoed and reverberated through the economy and ultimately slinked right into the corporate corridors you believed were safe. A second email was sent. This time they put non-permanent employees on unpaid leave and the rest of you were sent to work from home. Such relief! It all sounded great. That evening you stocked up on supplies and promptly locked you and your family home.

And each night, as rain rumbled and tumbled through the night, you turned in the safety and warmth of your bed; absolutely oblivious to folk who now have to worry not just about this deadly flu but about flash floods and mud slides and malaria and relocating to higher ground. During the day, with self-righteous indignation, you go on your usual twitter rants sending strongly worded tweets about the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of our government, the heroism of health workers who put their lives at risk each day and the sheer stupidity of people who continue to go about as if these very strange times are a joke. What in the hell was wrong with people who insisted on getting out? Do they not know how serious this thing is and that they could die? Ha.

But there are people who chuckle in pained amusement when they are told they’ve got to wash their hands with running water. Because they have never had running water. People who are normally crammed and stacked in ramshackle structures without the help of being asked to stay indoors are being told to practice social distancing. Many many people who fall under the informal sector umbrella and depend on meagre daily wages for survival are now watching as our leaders spend millions on tea and snacks. It is tough, all around. Kindness is needed, and thoughtfulness. Much more is needed in the way of hope and patience. And above all, the capacity to sit in the uncomfortable truth that it is okay to simply not know what will happen.

Slinky Sylvia.

prostitiu

Any other time she was able to forget. With remarkable efficiency, she was always able lock away the thoughts in the darkest and least used crannies of her brain. Any other time except when she was in the shower in the safety of her house right after the act. Enclosed within those four misty walls, standing underneath the flood of scalding hot water, alone and bare, is when the thoughts poured in. With detail and film-like play by play. About the glitz and grime and shame. During these particular showers, absolutely nothing could convince her that she was worth more than dirt. And the water never quite managed to wash off the film of self-loathing that stuck to her like second skin; no matter how hot she let it run. The disgust was not so much out of the fact that she had done it; it was in the knowing that she would do it again and again and again. Just as he and all the others expected.

The thoughts always came in waves; tumbling over each other like bubbles dispensed from their machine. The first thought was his face; always his bulging and sweaty indelible face. The face was a study; unpleasant in an unsettling way. He had, with no exception, the meanest mouth she had seen. His teeth had initially scared her; with their shark-like sharpness and childish delight every time they closed on her left nipple (never the right). This fear she was however able to put to rest; mainly because most of what they did left little room for face gazes. Then there was the suffocation she felt each time he pinned her onto the foreign mattresses they used in the numerous lodges they turned to for their illicit meetings. In these foreign beds when she would be trapped in his bulky arms with his tongue wedged in her ear like wet cement, her mental counting of seconds until he would be done started. It was always the same process. There was sloppy licking and slurping meant to pass for kissing then his chubby fingers probing at her genitals intrusively and often painfully. When he finally came around to mounting her, it was always unapologetically possessive and never with protection. When it was all done, she would scramble to the bathroom and he would lay there spent and delirious with pleasure; content with the world and in the secured knowledge that she would always be around, ready and willing, provided he kept his purse strings open.

You see, Sylvia was what essentially passed for a prostitute. The bottom line was that she had sex for money though she and many others liked to shroud this activity with liberal names. She did not go out stripping or escorting or road-side hailing. And she did not allow into her bed more than one man at a time. What she was, was a kept woman. Purely for sex. The arrangement was that she would sit by the phone and go running whenever he summoned her. He on the other hand was supposed to answer to her financial needs. It was an arrangement which worked perfectly for him and his marriage. Only she hated it; with forceful singularity that often made her question why she kept doing it. Her friend, stuck in stripping and bar-tending, puzzled over this because in the cold and murky world where sex equalled money, this was considered immeasurable luck. This kind of arrangement was envied because it came with assured money and what was considered very little work.

Prostitution, for her, had started as a means to an end. Her growing up did not involve sexual or physical abuse. The one factor that stood out was poverty; deep in the slums, bottom of the chain, scavenging-for-food-in-trashcans poor. Her first sexual encounter was when she was barely ten. It was with a twelve year old boy in a dark alley at around 08:00 pm. Just two kids eager to try out the pornography they had watched in a grown-up’s phone. For her, sex did not hold the mystery and foreboding common with tended to kids. There was never the “stay away from boys talk”, no sermons about sexual purity and no notions of a prince charming meant to sweep her off her feet and worship at her feet. Her life was cold and the only instinct she learnt was surviving day through day. That and hatred. Hatred for power and the people who wielded it. It was hatred spent and too old for someone so young.

At 16, a gangly girl too big for her age, she was sleeping with a 27 year old man. A man who made it clear he was with her for what they did behind closed doors. It was the first time Sylvia realized sex COULD amount to money; that her womanhood was appreciated by certain kinds of people. Her energies henceforth were directed at perfecting her skill. And she got good at it; at least the men who kept coming back said so. There were quick lessons; basic knowledge for anyone looking to thrive in the world she was choosing. The first was that lighter skin was better than dark; so creams and lightening agents promptly formed her routine. And that long and limp hair was the way; enter relaxers, weaves, wigs and extensions. Then there was weight which she was supposed to maintain in certain areas and not in others. So she got into endless work out regimes targeted at particular body parts. At 24, she had changed; transformed herself into the poster girl for all things sexy. She was naturally picky and sold herself only to the highest bidder. The money flowed and in the flawed world where staged snapshots were taken to depict the whole picture, she was envied and quickly elevated to a role model for girls, young and old. But she hated it all.

The man she was keeping now, was, from the look of things, on his way out. Not out of Sylvia’s choice. He was getting bored. And there was nothing Sylvia could do apart from move onto her next prey. Not once did she ever think of herself as the prey. They paid to be with her and that, to her, was enough.

this post is about harassment; the sexual kind.

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This may come as a surprise to those of you who may or may not live under secluded little rocks, but on an average day, women get sexually harassed more than your local leaders were yelling “BBI!” before The Rona scared them into their mansions. By sexual harassment, I should explain, I mean unwanted sexual attention; the kind that women get simply because they happen to be female. It is so rampant that women and many men do not even recognise it as harassment or abuse. From the gropers, the gapers and drools to the vulgar flirts and rapist boyfriends and finally the men who direct their words at our chests instead of our faces, there really is no catching a break.

Take Mary, who works a clerical job at a struggling start-up. When she leaves for work each day, she can always count on the overly helpful man, practically falling over himself to help her navigate a reasonably empty aisle in the matatu. His hands, for whatever reason, are always glued to her waist and the small of her back. Mary has since grown accustomed to the unabashed stares and catcalls and “appreciative” whistles from drooling men. At the office, each and every place she has worked, there is always the self-proclaimed ladies’ man who mistakes embarrassing abrasiveness for forwardness. The man who lives for the inappropriate comments on the length of her skirt and the fit of her dress and her body shape. The kind who flirts with her across the room, eliciting stares, theories and sniggers.

At forums which surely do not warrant any kind of attention, there will be that one man. Hovering over her and flashing little snarly smiles. We have all encountered them; the kind that do away with all boundaries once they have downed a beer or two and then go about harassing women in the name of inebriation. And then there are the ones that come with marriage promises because that is how low the husband bar has been set. The only qualifying factor is that the man should BE a man. Then women will be lining up for the great token of being called wives.

Listen. Men (and women). If you know you are in a position that leaves the girl vulnerable, just do.not.hit.on.her. Period. I said this to a man who was coming on to a waiter at a night club and the man responded with “mEn aRe nAtuRALly vIsUaL”. That if she did not want to be hit on she would not be wearing the tight number she had on. He was convinced that ladies love these advances and only act like they do not to play hard to get. I personally still do not know how many times one can say no before the message hits home.

Most dabblers are generally within the law. Which creates the illusion that it is alright to catcall and “mistakenly” graze women body parts and gloat. It is not. It is harassment. And no one should be doing it. Regardless of your naturally visual tendencies (lol).I can assure you, dear man, that no one is agitating for a peek into what you keep in your pants, baseball bat or shrivelled carrot notwithstanding. Used to be that mothers warned their teenage daughters against dressing a certain way or sitting a certain way or walking a certain way(or you know, simply existing) in a way that might have been misconstrued as inviting the demons that live in some sick minded men. And we obeyed. And did that thing where we always had to put our legs together when sitting down and tried so hard not to play with boys and were taught early on that humility, modesty and shyness were the point-gaining qualities. So much so that to date, outspoken women stand out; like sore thumbs which must be admonished and pushed back down. All of that still did not help. Because the creepy uncle still came around and did his thing. And the grown man still stared unabashed at the sway of young hips.

Am I saying that men should not hit on women (and vice versa)? No. Not at all. Just do not be a prude while at it. And listen to words. No really does mean no people.

Birthdays! Of Special people and Special days.

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I try not to think (too hard) about the mysteries of life. But there are certain things that never fail to inspire some level of confrontation with the opaqueness behind the reasoning of some life mysteries. I, for one, often wonder how we get to end up in our families. Because in that particular respect, I came up lucky. I really did get the best. There is the purest of intentions, the absolute sincerity in acts and simple undiluted joy in having my siblings. My sisters especially make it a little easier to swallow all that life keeps shoving my way. Today, my sister, the authoritative one who is most thorough and beautiful and of the quick comebacks, turns thirty. Early last month, as we ushered in 2020, she announced unceremoniously that this was the year she would turn 30. And I felt apprehensive on her behalf. “Do you know how long you have to have lived to be thirty?” I asked her and she answered, simply and with dismay at the stupidity of the question, “Obviously 30 years, lol.” I am still wondering where all that time went.
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There used to be a time when all that mattered was maintaining loyalty when out playing and establishing territories. Hellen, I will have you know, was a protector; absolutely formidable in dealing with bullies. I particularly remember her getting into fights and solidly shielding me from the harshness that is often common when out interacting with hurt little rascals who bring that hurt with them to the playing field in form of bullying. (P.S I was scrawny and scared and sucked on my right thumb until I was like eleven; basic pure fodder for bullies). On whose side she stood was never in question. This was way back when I was still learning my ABCs and she in the esteemed upper classes level. When she was a KCPE candidate, I remember having half day school. I mostly remember her coming back to the house at around 08:00 pm from some organised private tuition, carting around a huge denim bag filled with all these revision books which were ultimately dutifully passed on to us.

She has since grown. Obviously. And it is not only that she was the first to introduce me to what it felt to be appreciated and thought of because of the goodies and gifts she brought back when coming from her boarding high school. Or the fact that it was she who sharpened my interest in reading books because of the many pacesetter stories she told. Those I gained simply because of the privilege growing up with her afforded me. It was more; a whole lot more. There is so much she covers simply because she is here. Anyone you ask will tell you there is undeniable loyalty in her actions. The love she has for her boys; her adorable sons (and I am not just saying this; those boys really are the cutest), never ceases to amaze me. Her words, often quick and not exactly easy to take, have always been factual, thought out and to the point. When I asked her what it was she felt about turning thirty, in one of very rare moments, she paused, unsure of the answer. I later realised it was me projecting my insecurities onto her.


Because in the life we are living now, after classes in movies and Instagram and Twitter and yes Facebook, we are conditioned again and again to measure our achievements at unrealistic (and very often unreal) standards. At each turn we keep getting reminded of our shortcomings. Because there is some introverted sixteen year old somewhere raking in billions from, as YouTube will have us know, the comfort of their cosy and perfect home. And there is all kinds of goals now; couple goals, sibling goals, money goals, body goals. Then there is us; the barely staying afloat ones when everyone else seems to be prospering. It is all so overwhelming; especially when under the conviction that you need to achieve certain things before reaching a certain age.
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I do not know how easy it is to stay above all this or what it feels like to be thirty (at least not yet, lol). I do know though that my life and so many others are better because of you. That there are babies involved here and a love for shoes and hand bags and self-love I always admire. Really, with the kind of determination in life and self-giving to your little boys and husband that you posses, it is practically impossible not to admire. So this post is meant to remind you that you are adored. And admired. And needed. And loved. Happy birthday Hellen. Get to blow many more candles.
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P.S: I have included this many photos because, well because I know you like photos and because I want to put them here. And because you are too pretty.