BIRTH-DAYS.

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Birthdays. That one day that saw us become official occupants of planet earth. Depending on where you come from, because frankly approaches to birthdays are heavily influenced by our childhoods, you could spend the day blowing candles, opening gifts and responding to numerous “Happy Birthday 🎉🎉🎊🎊🎊” messages. Or you could stumble onto the realization that your birthday was three days ago and no one, including yourself, remembered. I personally did not open any birthday gift or blow a single candle until my twentieth birthday. Hell, I did not quite know my birth date until my early teen years (long story). In my family, birthdays hold as much significance as common decency does to people who haphazardly leave trash in parks. I have since accepted we in our family show love and appreciation in other (largely ambiguous) ways.

Anyway, I celebrated mine recently and things are generally okay; the kind of okay that describes a ship wrecked by tumultuous waves and happens to find calm waters deep at sea with no idea from which direction the next wave might hit. I do not know what birthdays mean to you. For me, after sorting through conventions and expectations, a birthday simply marks one year down and one more closer to whatever awaits us on the other side. Really, when all is said and done, this really continues to be a day in the life we have always lived. With our habits; the ones we continue reinforcing and the ones we continue to desire. With our friends, all three loyal ones or the multitude we have whom we know would not break a sweat when bleeding might have a chance at getting the job done. With our self-harming or self-building tendencies. And battling whatever illnesses we continue to struggle with or enjoying precious good health. Same lives we have always led with our hated jobs or flourishing in fulfilling livelihoods. Continued lives with perpetual worry about ever empty bank accounts or enjoying the things money can buy.

Used to be I did not expect gifts on my birthdays. Then certain people started doing the most and going out to make the day a little out of the ordinary. So I started thinking about what might be coming. And that has always been great. The one gift that would have been truly priceless this time though would have been assurance. Uncomplicated and positive assurance that things would work out. Eventually. Some kind of foresight to shed light on the good (it really has to be good) that awaits me and mine in later days. Because I really worry. About my brittle yet young bones and my slowly ageing parents. Endless worry about my seemingly more elusive dreams. About the fact that everything seems to have taken a hiatus from its designated (and greatly desired) path. Then there is having to light little fires of hope where fear has cast darkness. Debilitating and palpable fear about things that worked out not quite the way I hoped and those that did not even come close. Fear that is working extra hard to effectively keep me unseeing to the small wins and haze my vision from what truly matters, whatever that even means. Nothing can explain how terrified I am that tomorrow will come and my troubles, draining and daunting as they are, will still be around, relentlessly taking laps with me as I struggle to set things right.

All of this probably sounds too poignant. And yes, I have been through the motions, gone through the motivational self-help books and sat through the encouraging talks about things working in their own time or that it is entirely too early to be wondering about all this. And I want to believe all that, so so badly. It is what it is though and my mind seemingly having a mind of its own does not help. Today I celebrate what I have. Which is life. So happy life to me. And to you as well.

(P.S you could be one of those normal human beings who does not think too damn much about a day that is simply a commemoration of when one was born and is the perfect excuse to feed on over-priced cake. If you are, please, do not mind me and happy happy birthday to you, in advance or belated).

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BREASTS WITH CANCER II

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Whoever said the darkest of nights are always followed by the brightest mornings probably meant well. Whoever it is lied though. Blatantly and through their teeth. Because there are dawns that stubbornly refuse to break. Masya knew this better than anyone else. To her way of thinking, nothing could explain why she needed to go through the dark in the first place. That she was saddled with the burden that cancer brings with it was a pill she was yet to swallow. There was the initial shock and disbelief, which lasted the exact amount of time it took her mother to learn of the diagnosis, travel to Nairobi and noisily settle in the flats Masya rented. What came next was endless adjusting and readjusting. She sat through sympathetic and impromptu testimonials from people who said it would get better; that others had been through worse and survived. She tried hard to not hate the empty assurances she got from people who felt compelled to tell her it would be well without bothering to explain how. Or the numerous times she was reminded that everything happened for a reason. She stayed up late at night nursing pain that would not let her sleep and thought of people who managed to blissfully get through uninterrupted nights. Most of all, she got through the pain; which was something like she never thought possible.

Saturday afternoon. Her sister and mother scampered about hustling the men erecting tents for would-be first ever gathering aimed at forging the way forward where Masya’s health was concerned. This first gathering was a family only affair. Masya still firmly believed things were under control. Relations she hardly knew and people she had lost contact with years prior came in their numbers. And they all had something to say about cancer, which they managed to talk about without mentioning the ominous word itself. There was curiosity as well, from people who unabashedly cast glances at her bust as if expecting to see her afflicted breasts through the loose blouse she was wearing. They strategized and plotted late into the night. Her options were laid on the table, turned in the light for all to see, discussed and dissected. Testimonials and figures were thrown around. Pledges were made. At the end of the meeting, when everyone left, there was little doubt things would work out.

So, things did not work out.

The boat she had been safely sailing on started filling with water through holes she had no idea existed. It was set off by unfulfilled pledges people had solemnly made. Calls went unanswered and everyone suddenly had important things requiring their attention. Few people made the full contributions they had promised. Prayers and long motivational posts continued to flood her inbox though. The pre-treatment therapy she had begun taking greedily chomped on her cash reserves with each doctor’s visit. Insurance had, with embarrassing predictability, bowed out of covering her medical costs. A depressingly official letter (far cry from the cheerful ones she got advertising new covers) had been sent which in essence stated the cancer was not part of the deal since they had no way of seeing it coming. There was just enough cash stashed away to facilitate her trip to India and back. Her mother, who served as her sounding board and crying shoulder, vehemently admonished any hopeless or discouraged talk. She who firmly believed God would get them through these rough seas, would pull quotes from the good book then go back to calling friends and relatives and hounding them about honoring their pledges.

They went about preparing for the trip to India, her and her mother, carefully leaving unspoken the one question that continued to plague them; after India, how were they going to deal with all the follow up expenses? And what would they do if the cancer recurred. There was hope though. The hope that this trip, as costly as it was, would put to rest the fear and pain. That after this, she would be free. This she had been assured. By various specialists. The fact that she would forever go about without one of her boobs was such a small price. She truly simply wanted to be free.

The surgery happened. With remarkable efficiency. Barely a day since their arrival, Masya stood topless in her hospital ward’s bathroom and examined her body while waiting to be prepped. The ailing boob, grotesquely veined, lay limp next to her other one. She had lost weight and for the first time since she cared to remember, she was gaunt. There were no tears. Just resignation. The first and only drop rolled off when a medic bustled in carrying a form she was required to sign and which essentially took away blame from the hospital in the event that she failed to come back breathing. She signed and when instructed to, deeply inhaled whatever gas it was that would put her to sleep. As she fell into drugged sleep in a confusingly lit room with strange faces peering down at her, her mother’s words promising that everything would be okay rung over and over in her jumbled mind.

Humans make plans and in the background, fate chuckles at this folly. Because we do not know what happens tomorrow or the day after. There really is incredible bliss in not knowing. For exactly 53 (and a half) days Masya was kept afloat by the hope that she was well on her way to healing. She got through the surgery. Psyched her way through horrifying chemo sessions. Hats hand-knitted by her mother covered her hair falling off. She started toying with the idea of starting a foundation for cancer survivors and helping other afflicted people. She was even enthusiastic about the pads she had to use to fill where her boob used to be. She quietly longed for random and insanely human activities such as planning a meal, or binge watching whatever series she was obsessing over, or going for bike rides at Karura and meeting with friends while catching up on old gossip. Things were slowly falling into place. Then she was informed, during a routine check, that another lump had been detected in her right boob and that it needed to be dealt with because it posed even greater risk. Her lungs seemed to be infected as well and were under imminent collapsing risk. It was a blow dealt so severely it put Masya under supervised bed rest for close to three weeks and added anti-depressants onto the pile of pills she took every day.

So here is the thing. When you are diagnosed with cancer and have to fight through reviving failing organs, there is always the hope of living a cancer-free life; the hope for painless and worry-free days. When cancer recurs and finds its way back, usually with vengeful fury, this effectively falls on the list of very unlikely possibilities. Almost anyone unfortunate enough to have gone through cancer but fortunate enough to be called a survivor will tell you recurrence is always a fear, never looming too far. Random (and often reasonably harmless) aches lead to anxiety, fear, and pitless worry. For Masya, this recurrence simply meant she had no fighting chance.

The forces in charge of her life, whatever those are, had other plans though. She got through the second surgery, borrowed her way through therapies and finally when the doctors told her she was officially cancer-free after three months of monitoring, she dared not believe. That kind of hope required faith and strength. She simply did not have any more left.

BREASTS WITH CANCER

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The breast cancer screening test she was nagged into taking marked the first of her many misfortunes. Three weeks after walking into that clinic she had procured a paybill number and was urging people to contribute towards her breast-removal surgery. A month later she was on her way to India where foreign doctors proceeded to poke and prod her chest organs and finally make away with her left breast. She was flat out of money in less than two months afterwards as she fought to keep up with therapies, diets and costly drugs. Later, three doctors sat her down and informed her, in plenty of medical jargon, that her right breast had to go as well. Something to do with cancerous cells which were multiplying too fast. This time she had a fundraiser which was severely under attended and mostly served to prove the true mettle of her alleged friends. All said, in less than four months, Masya had lost all her earthly possessions, both her breasts, most of her friends and relatives and an overwhelming amount of trust in humanity. She had managed to gain enough debt to sink three successive generations, and enough knowledge in breast cancer treatment to shame a third year medicine student.

You see the way you wake up and hastily prepare to get out of the house because it is going to be another day of going through the motions and worrying about all those things that constantly occupy your mind, but which in hindsight are not all that important? That was Masya on 15th June 2018. It was a chilly Saturday morning, with nothing to do apart from showing her face at work and going for a breast cancer screening which had a small free-of-charge window she had been encouraged to take advantage of. Her biggest concern when she was instructed to get into the screening room at the clinic involved the fact that she hadn’t shaved her armpits that week and she was not allowed to apply deo on the said day. She hoped the procedure would be swift enough to give her enough time to do some grocery shopping before turning in for the weekend.

In a thoroughly scrubbed room where the screening machine was tucked at the far end, a matronly nurse instructed her to put on a bare, shapeless gab and wait a few minutes. A different medic, male this time, came in after about five minutes and proceeded to do the screening; basically splaying her left then right boob on a platform at a machine she would later learn was called a mammogram and making observations on an overhead screen. There was the slightest of pauses as the nurse studied an indecipherable mass of flesh and blood which was supposed to be Masya’s left boob. He offered a small watery smile while walking out and instructed Masya to wait a little while he fetched a doctor. Masya hurriedly put her clothes back on. A small throb started in her chest and steadily increased with each passing moment. Something was not right.

The doctor finally shuffled in after what felt like eternity. He was a small wiry man with spectacles that pinched his nose in a way that could only be painful. In his hands he was clutching Masya’s test results. He wanted to know if Masya’s family had any history of breast cancer. Masya had no recollection of any previous diagnosis. How old was she? Masya said she was 32, turning 33 in less than two months. Had she had this procedure done before? She shook her head no. Had she experienced any pain especially around her areola or felt any hardness in her breasts of late? Masya wanted to know which one was the areola specifically and no, she had not felt any hardness; not that she had been looking. The doctor paused and turned his attention to the results as if seeing them for the first time. Minutes of heavy silence passed before Masya asked if everything was okay. She was informed the results were showing abnormal cells though he could not say more at this point. Masya would have to come in for further tests, as soon as possible.

In her car, Masya stared at her shaking hands and willed her nerves to settle. The throbbing worry had settled for a raging storm that sent her thoughts tumbling over each other so that she struggled to hear herself think. They had found abnormal cells. Potentially cancerous. A quick detour to the clinic’s washrooms where she had urgently felt her breasts had indeed uncovered two lumps, both in her left breast. There was no pain; surely a good sign. She reasoned it was probably cruel to worry her family without conclusive diagnosis. Maybe the cells were not the kind that actually caused cancer. And she could be blowing things out of proportion without reasonable cause. Also, the doctor had not seemed overly worried. Seeing as she had already booked an appointment scheduled in two days, she decided she would wait until after the final tests before getting other people involved.

Before pulling out of the parking lot, she sent her sister a text briefing her on what had happened while deliberately downplaying her worry. She spent the rest of the day reading everything she could find online about breast cancer.

And thus it came to be. A week after having the tests done, Masya was seating across the same doctor and trying hopelessly to get meaning out of what she was hearing. Her sister sat next to her and cradled their intertwined fingers on her laps. They were at the moment listening to the doctor try to explain how she, Masya, was a stage two breast cancer patient with no history of cancer in the family. Though rare, cases did exist of patients who were found to have breast cancer at a younger age. That this kind of cancer could have resulted from her relatively dense boobs, or poor diet choices and/or lack of exercise. That women who got pregnant before 30 and breast fed for longer periods of time were at lower risk. The doctor thought it best to go with mastectomy; which was the term he used to say they would need to get rid of her entire left breast. That they would need to do different kinds of therapies afterwards to ensure the cancer did not come back. And all of this would cost immense sums of money. How was her insurance?

The short walk from that doctor’s room to the car still remains blurry. Infact, Masya lost track of the conversation when the doctor launched into the options available to her emphasizing mastectomy and not lumpectomy (the kind of surgery where they conserve your breasts) seemed most probable. And that Kenya lacked the facilities to do conclusive screening tests so she would have to travel to India. In the car, they held each other and wept; Masya in deep guttural sobs and her sister in quiet moans. It was all overwhelming. Later, with puffy eyes and stuffed noses, they sent a comprehensive text to the family WhatsApp group informing everyone what was what. It was a group which for the most part only included cliché quotes and old jokes sent by their mother but which would suddenly turn active. It was the beginning of a nightmare Masya had never imagined. Her mother after insisting they get second and third opinions from other doctors, set camp in her house and swore to stay until after the sickness went back to the devil which, she was certain, is where it came from.

[The second and concluding part will be up soon enough.]

OF SILENT WOMEN AND HAPPY MARRIAGES.

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Someone’s son firmly believes the main reason more marriages are failing nowadays is because girls have lost the perseverance their mothers wore like second skin. In one of those conversations that inadvertently veer towards all sorts of different topics, we somehow ended up talking about marriages and the alarming number of separations. He delivered this information nonchalantly and with a straight face totally oblivious to the entitlement that jumped right out with the words and settled comfortably beside the chauvinism that just then palpably filled the room. I was shocked, to say the least. We have come a long way. Used to be that girls were considered lesser than boys; only fit for marriage to the man who pledged the highest bride price. Then we had to convince a disbelieving community that we could do better than fetch bride price and needed to be educated as well. Girls fought to prove they were just as smart as boys. Years upon years of fighting by women who were vilified and forced to bear the brunt of a community too defensive to face its own flawed systems, saw a new crop of women emerge. More empowered and more aware. On the backs of their feminist womenfolk, they rode into the places that were previously forbidden, took up seats in tables that were only surrounded by men and asked more questions. Still, in the midst of all these, patriarchy, entrenched and accepted as a way of life, lived on. A young man, with reasonable exposure and education, still believed that the woman had to be more hardworking, forgiving, silent and long-suffering for a marriage to work.

Arguments around feminism are vast and could dry your mouth of all saliva. I always assumed some of these things are pretty obvious though. There is no question that girls have for long been brought up to believe they should measure their achievements by standards that decidedly make them lesser than men. And since I can hardly go around pumping these facts into people’s heads, I figured it was easier to stay away from the men who still insist the kitchen is a reserve for women. But this, this belief that women are inherently perseverant could not go unspoken.

Perseverance genes do not exist. The “cooking” and “cleaning” hormone does not come hand in hand with oestrogen for those who may not know; infact, no such hormones exists. That the woman needs to be more prayerful and contained and “wifely” for the marriage to work is a belief carried by men who are too afraid to take up responsibility. There are many men who have unfortunately been brought up to believe their worth solely lies in the bulk of their muscles or the bulge of their wallets; men walking around carrying fragile egos on their sleeves. These are our brothers, uncles, fathers, male cousins, friends and acquaintances who ask for leeway before they even set foot in the matrimonial door because they expect to underperform and get away with it.

We could sit here and talk about women who have radicalised this movement and are now trying to BE men, or women who conveniently practise selective feminism when it suits them. We could look at abusive and toxic women hiding behind the empowerment shield while harassing and abusing men. These are entirely different cans of worms I would rather not get into. The constant remains that things have for so long been skewed in favour of men and history shows the oppressed continues to suffer long after the oppression has ceased (not that it has at this point). And yes, we have women who now occupy board seats, but men still dominate those halls. Girls getting quality education but many more still wallow in areas where education is considered a privilege. Women empowered enough to own their sexualities and dare to explore and enjoy consensual sex, but many more are labelled sluts and shunned. Women in the work place are made to suffer slow career growth for bearing children and having to go on statutory maternity leave. Society questions women who remain single in their thirties but such questions are never asked of men. Chimamanda said that women are raised to aspire to marriage but men are not, to see each other as competitors and to not shine their lights too bright because they will emasculate the man. These words are true, though many will fill their mouths with words of argument saying this is hearsay, or whatever.

To each his own. And frankly at this point some of these things are verging on ignorance and arrogance. I personally stopped by to remind you dear reader that your mom, when she was the last to go to bed and the first to wake up, when she went back when your dad was unfaithful or abusive, when she put up with your paternal relatives while your father turned a blind eye, a little part of her died. Each time she gave up her own happiness for the sake of keeping that marriage intact she lost a part of herself she will never recover. So maybe, just maybe, if young girls are demanding more from their partners and are unwilling to lose themselves in the name of maintaining the union, maybe it is not such a terrible thing.

BOS’BORI

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At issue was a receipt.

A flimsy piece of paper which was supposed to account for Ksh 630,050 worth of sales and which was suddenly missing. This Thursday afternoon just when Bosibori was to close all accounts and end a day that had proven particularly hot and tiresome, the receipt could not be placed. His boss, a belligerent and foul man who worsened utter lack of empathy with boorish flamboyance now towered over his seated frame and alternated subtle insults with grave threats while breathing stale onions and kale breathe into his face. The message, delivered in so many words and with such high volume, was that Bosibori had to find the receipt or the sum would be deducted from his pay.

An undergrad from a numbingly humble background, Bosibori had turned out to be a man of very few words. His degree, the piece of paper his mother had proudly insisted he laminate and frame and which had astonishingly proven useless, declared him an expert in economics and statistics. Years of clashing with the administration for better facilities, praying for less strikes and hunting down ever-absent lecturers within University of Nairobi halls had been rewarded with a sheet of paper, which thousands others had and which was viewed with disinterest by the various employers he encountered. His strong Christian background emphasized positivity and gratitude and so Bosibori approached abject poverty with decided diplomacy. His left cheek was always offered when the right one was smacked by all the scum he encountered in life.

When he managed to land an accountancy job that paid him peanuts and grossly overworked him, he took all of it in stride and looked forward to better days. The job itself was wrought with overbearing superiors, tight working schedules and punitive penalties for mistakes. Bosibori, a reasonably sharp guy, found himself under extreme pressure and was second guessing himself in the most basic of tasks. Now, he had to counter-check every single step he took and could not, for the life of him, get rid of his boss’ voice which had announced after his last mishap that he had exhausted his mistakes quota; one more and he would be out. This particular day had not been outside the norm and at least the boss had not left his desk to reprimand him over whatever new problem he had identified. Then, when Bosibori was looking forward to a restful evening, this receipt went ahead and got missing.

The beginnings of a headache which mildly thumped at his temples could have been the cause of the snap. Or maybe his patience had finally reached its limit. On this day though Bosibori spoke back; yelled back really and stunned his boss to gaping silence. The boss was informed to take care of his silly insecurities and possibly change his mouthwash. Quite helpful would be a good dose of humanity. Across the open layout office, fingers stopped mid-typing and astonished eyes stared at Bosibori who some were hearing speak for the first time. The astonishment turned to outright shock when Bosibori walked up to the man and dared him to insinuate he was stupid one more time. Visibly shaken, the boss informed Bosibori to leave and never come back. Bosibori had known the inevitability of this outcome, had counted on it even, but the finality of those words sobered him.

In his desk drawers as he retrieved his few personal effects, the missing receipt harmlessly lay in there, together with reports he had been working on earlier in the day.

WHEN MISFORTUNE CAMPS IN YOUR BACKYARD.

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Each family has that one child that turned out different. The one apple that ended up falling so far from the tree it’s almost as if it did not belong to the tree in the first place. Sissy was one of those. She was different. The kind of different that gave her single mom endless headaches. She knew no bounds and was known to express herself in biting words. Combined with her restless pair of legs and wayward friends for company, Sissy embodied the worst combination her mom could ever imagine.

This is how events would unfold. Often Sissy would leave for school. She was in class seven at the time. Then she would not come back in the evening. When most primary school pupils were hunkering down with their homework, no one knew where Sissy was. For days usually less than a week at a time, her widowed mom would look for her in all conceivable places. Sissy tended to show up when she felt like it. At school, a public facility where the overworked teachers were too exhausted to stress about one student who performed poorly anyway, no one worried too much. So Sissy would be away for days and when she returned, she would pick up right where she’d left off. Her class teacher had long lost count and interest. Bitter arguments always ensued on her unannounced returns between her and her mother with most arguments ending with Sissy slamming the door on her way out and rushing to one of the numerous friends she had.

Sheer luck saw her sit her KCPE exams. She performed reasonably well considering her misgivings; enough to find her a spot in a respectable high school. Her mother, weary of all the fights and reluctant to pay for a child whose whereabouts were ever mysterious, reasoned that if Sissy was not going to settle down and at least make attempts at reading her books then there was no point in letting her proceed. The ball was left in her court. She disappeared just when they should have been gathering the various requirements for entry into form one; this time for more than two weeks. That was that. Her procession to high school was laid to rest and never spoken of again. In hindsight, if her mother had had a way of foreseeing the future, then maybe she would have put her foot down more firmly and insisted on some accountability from her daughter. She did not and Sissy was let free. It was a freedom that would later doom her and many others.

The long free days that stretched before Sissy now that school was no longer an issue saw her tighten her friendship cliques; mostly girls who did all that conventional society frowns upon. Unofficially she had moved out of her mother’s house; her clothes were there and she was known to make quick stops to collect a few items here and there. Officially, she was a member of the house with her sleeping spot intact and never occupied. There were other siblings, two sisters and two brothers, who tried to make interventions but their pleas always fell on deaf ears and were quite often met with scathing insults. It was a discouragingly hopeless situation with life’s numerous hardships to keep them occupied. After a while, they decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Sissy always got in touch when she needed something anyway.

This unencumbered life that Sissy was relishing was filled with men. So many men. Which was hardly a surprise because Sissy was not at all hard on the eyes. These were men that were ridiculously accessible and quite generous with the contents of their wallets. Needless to say, sex was the unspoken exchange for all those monetary favours. Her siblings prayed hard for some kind of miracle that would somehow shift Sissy’s approach to life. The miracle fell on their laps and one bright Sunday morning Sissy paid her eldest sister a visit with a man in tow. They were seeking to formalize their union; a sign that Sissy had finally decided to settle down. It was a relief that unfortunately did not last long. Introductions and other formalities were made and the two promptly declared husband and wife. Months into their union, domestic wrangles began. They had loud arguments that woke neighbours up and vicious fights that turned ugly fast and often ended with the involvement of police officers. The union ended quietly and her family stumbled upon the separation months later.

The second official partner seemed far less promising. He was some kind of technical assistant in one of the airstrips in Kenya. Most worrying though was the fact that he was a shrill person, both physically and verbally. His was a personality that trembled in the face of Sissy’s raging one. And he was a heavy drinker. This time, the siblings took the introductions with a pinch of salt, and half-heartedly welcomed him into their family but in the kind of way you welcome a guest whom you know is bound to leave soon. Their scepticism was laid to rest when Sissy became pregnant. It was such a surprise and they watched with abated breathe as she carried the pregnancy to term and brought forth a beautiful baby boy. The child however did little to slow Sissy down. Whereas the first husband had been keen on her whereabouts, the second one simply drank his enquiries to oblivion. He was known to spend consecutive nights in the many musky illicit brews joints and would descend on their marital bed at ungodly hours and often failed to notice Sissy’s absence. Sissy lived on unconcerned. The child was brought up with overwhelming assistance from friends and neighbours.

Then Sissy started getting sick.

The ailing was at first mistaken for a hangover that wouldn’t be slept off. It was a small migraine today, then a general exhaustion the next together with severe lack of appetite. She bought over-the-counter painkillers and absently wondered what was happening to her. Some of her friends speculated she was pregnant but a test quickly put that to rest. Conscious worrying started when a wound formed, unprovoked, on the side of her neck. It was painful and ugly and oozed smelly pus at random hours. She covered it as much as she could and took to wearing hoodies and pull-neck cardigans or collared shirts. She hid and stayed away from her family. Many of her friends disappeared without prompting. At long last, when the pain became unbearable, she walked into a health facility and was declared a carrier of the Tuberculosis bacteria. (a different strain different from the one that causes coughing). She was given massive pills that gave her diarrhoea and that were truly difficult to swallow. It was recommended that she shows up for dressing on a weekly basis. Sissy at the moment was just realising how elusive her health had become and the weekly visits directive was met with noncommittal nods. The doctor appointments were observed but not faithfully.

She was sickly and abhorred the idea that she could not move around as she previously had. Her husband at some point moved house and took the child with him. After months of spending days lying on one of her friends’ couches and stretching their hospitality to their limits, Sissy was finally forced to inform her family. She visited her sister one morning, shivering and fevered with pain. The family was quickly assembled and brought up to speed on the new development. It was agreed that Sissy should go stay upcountry with their mother. The eldest sister was about to move up there herself anyway. Moving upcountry was an idea Sissy did not want to consider, she that had lived in the city her whole life. It was degrading and belittling to her way of thinking. She agreed to travel on the tacit agreement that as soon as she got better she would find her way back and resume with her life.

In the shrubby and overgrown bushes upcountry, Sissy became bitter and stood for everything negative. On her first routine visit to a health facility where she was seeking to replenish her TB medication, the facility insisted on performing their own tests as was routine. Due to the prevalence of the HIV virus and the ignorance that surrounded the illness, the hospital routinely tested all their patients for the virus and only informed them when the tests came back positive. Sissy’s tests came back positive and immediately cast a different light on everything. She viciously termed those tests inaccurate and told the nurse on duty to go back and perform more tests. The nurse left and came back with a doctor who was supposed to speak sense into the hysterical and fragile Sissy who was arguing with science. It was stated in no uncertain terms that she had probably suffered the illness for a while and that it was best to get on ARV medication. Denial and misery saw Sissy refuse to take her pills. The neck wound was finally healing but bigger worries now plagued her. She fought with her mother, who lost a few years trying to come to terms with her baby who was grappling with this taboo of a disease that was met with so much stigma especially upcountry. Meanwhile Sissy wasted away in her mother’s house. The health facility determined that not much could be done unless Sissy started taking her pills.

Now, I could write an entire book detailing what happened between the time Sissy was diagnosed and the time resigned acceptance set in and she started taking her pills. I will tell you though about the time she went into shock and people thought she had finally joined the next life (everyone silently acknowledged it was only a matter of time). It was one of those days when Sissy had lost so much weight that she would be rolled up in the mattress she slept on, taken outside to bask in the sun and carried back into the house in the evening or when it started raining. On a day when she was lying in her sister’s living room on the sofa, she lost consciousness. Her sister tried to wake her to no avail and an elderly neighbour who had wandered into the compound following the commotion declared Sissy dead upon looking at her. The neighbour was one of the eldest women in the village whose wisdom preceded her hence it was difficult to argue with. A doctor later said it was shock and that Sissy really needed to get serious with her medicine.

There was another time, when Sissy decided to travel back to Nairobi after promises from her friends that they would take care of her. To be fair, those friends did not know what they were dealing with or how dire Sissy’s sickness was. She managed to travel overnight to Nairobi and crawl her way to the friend’s house in Lakisama. Her girlfriend, the one that had sent her bus fare, actually cried out in shock when she saw Sissy. The hunched, frail, emaciated frame that walked into her house was nothing like the voracious girl she had known for years. Sissy, exhausted beyond belief and with her health worsened by the travelling, collapsed on her sofa and had to be carried unconscious to a hospital. The friend, shocked beyond belief got in touch with Sissy’s other sister who was in Nairobi and requested that they come get Sissy. Phone calls from friends slowly stopped after that incident.

There are so many tales; macabre, disheartening and downright scary. So many sicknesses that had a field day with Sissy’s weak immune system. And so much stigma from friends, family and strangers who believed the illness could be spread through breathing air in the same room. But the migraines; those she will never forget. The headaches gonged through her sensibilities and messed up her balance system. It was later established that the headaches were as a result of Meningitis, a sickness that came so close to claiming her life. Sissy’s acceptance and acknowledgement that she was indeed a carrier of the feared virus happened later when she realised her son needed a mother. The fact that death stubbornly left her untouched even during the worst of times made her start taking the hated pills. Her health gradually improved but it has never been a clean bill. The headaches are still there, she is still underweight and she still suffers poor balance (due to the meningitis) but most importantly though, she still has her life. More grounded and with a lot of medication, she opens her eyes every morning and looks forward to yet another day.

LET’S TALK PHOTOGRAPHY; ONE CULTURE NATION.

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When you talk of artists, my mind automatically wanders to canvas and brush portrait painters; because that is what I have always associated art with. Turns out an artist is anyone who creates art. And art (which literally refers to the expression of creativity) stretches from the wide halls of visual arts, to the even wider passages of literature and then some in performing arts (and various combinations of the three). Regardless, there are people who strike you as artistic, just by their outward demeanour. For me, these are the people with a generally curious fashion sense, fantastically outrageous stances in life’s seemingly obvious concepts and a music taste buried in songs only known to them. And Peter, the focus of this article today, is as artistic as they come. When it comes to art, Peter is a wearer of various hats. He makes incredible drawings with pencil and paper, then he plays drums and dances on the side. The hat he wears most proudly though is photography. When I sat down with him to talk about One Culture Nation Photography, a brainchild of his conceived in late 2017, he spoke with a passion so rare and so palpable you could cut through it with a knife.

The journey began as many others have. High school provided him with the usual hogwash and knowledge many of us never actually apply in real life. Then because life has a penchant for setting its own timelines and rearranging man’s plans, boychild could not proceed to university. He lived on “small gigs” and dutifully played drums at church on Sundays. He would occasionally venture into various children’s homes to give back to society even when society did not seem to send much his way. It is in these homes that he thought he could maybe do something slightly different. The tradition and idea has always been when you talk of visiting a centre for homeless kids, you think of clothes, food and various games to engage the kids in. And yes, as noble as putting clothes on children’s backs and smiles on their faces is, capitalising on their interests and probable talents seemed more ideal. So he gathered like minded folk and started going in there and giving dance lessons and fashion lessons and then photography lessons when he later bought his first camera and sought to start an organisation that would eventually have a foundation that would then sponsor kids. The designated name was One Culture Nation Photography and the dream was that a foundation would come out of it sooner or later.

One Culture Nation is the place you go to when you need your events covered or your portraits created or general photos really. The difficulties surrounding any new venture cannot be overemphasized and One Culture Nation has had its fair share and still continues to deal with these problems. Together with his partner Meshack Omega, they managed to get the idea on its feet and start the project that is One Culture Nation Photography. Now, clients make bookings online through their social media platforms (no studio or website currently) and One Culture Nation does the rest. Concepts and random shoots in various parts of the country form part of their portfolio. One of their more notable achievements was in being the photographers of choice for an all-female bridal shower. It is no small feat getting women to trust you and comfortably let you shoot an event as intimate as this.
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So photography, as I gathered, is not as simple as I assumed. When someone asks you to shoot an event of theirs, the magnitude of the task is as daunting as it is crucial. People have been royally fucked by photographers who failed to deliver in one way or another. You the client is reciting your presumably once in a lifetime wedding vows or enjoying your birthday celebration reasonably hoping these moments are being captured in shots that have character (which is a thing). Meanwhile the camera’s memory ran out or the lens got messed somehow and blurry shots are being taken. And then a week later when a folder of neatly edited photos is expected they tell you they ran into some type of shit and that you should wait a bit. Later, long after the agreed upon time, to you are delivered images so underwhelming you want to shed tears.

Thus people will not necessarily entrust any camera-wielding human being with the task. Hell, some clients insist on some form of connection and trust before letting you shoot their events. Peter says photography is rarely about clicking away and providing snaps. Different clients come with different needs. Portrait shots require that the client is relaxed and comfortable. In gatherings such as birthdays or weddings you need to work quietly and from the shadows because God forbid a bride’s special day is stolen by the loud clicks of a photographer. You become a teacher sometimes, because many people do not know how to form simple formations or to pose or to smile in a way that does not raise questions about said person’s dentition. As a young man, not unless you are trusted, many women will not let you shoot their pregnancy images and/or nude shots or their all-female baby showers. It is an industry where your reputation needs to precede you otherwise clients will be as rare as honest politicians in Kenya.
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It is a journey; cumbersome and tough but which One Culture Nation is willing and ready to weather. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook at OneCultureNation. Make bookings and let us all look forward to life with memories and moments frozen in beautiful shots.

Below are images capturing some of their shoots and concepts.

Because family is beautiful. And the wonder of birth is even more beautiful. Captured here is life’s continuity, and the joy that comes from loving and being loved.
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Because fashion is fluid, no? I personally just like this one. So I am leaving it here.
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And because life is full of little ironies, the wealthiest are not always the happiest.
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Because the people we entrust with our economy fill us with grandiose and empty promises then end up doing the bare minimum. So what ails us still makes its way in and harms us. (Notice the face mask with smoke still seeping through. So your suffering is given a solution that does not solve anything.)
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