Looking for the Small Dreams

My mother never misses an opportunity to point out the differences between our generation and theirs, particularly those that glare offensively, rebelliously. We think it permissible to sleep at 4 am and wake up at 4 pm that same day. To them, it is just another confirmation that we are messed up in some way, for a virtuous person rises with the sun, except if they are a bit older and have already paid their dues. Then they can have the luxury of waking up at the late, late hour of 8 am. Of course the night was made for sleeping; only thieves and wild dogs are awake and active past midnight. We drag ourselves to school, and we vow that our children— in the spirit of ensuring that ones progeny experiences a better life than one did—will not know the misery that is life in a Kenyan system boarding school. They, on the other hand, recall enjoying boarding school, and the pleasures it afforded them: pocket money, and not having to balance school work with cow-herding and maize-harvesting. Small differences, some large, and she relishes those conversations, as though somehow, they allow her to understand us better. Read more

Home

You walked into her bedroom-her bedroom with the light in every corner and the pretty, somewhat delicate, lavender curtains- and found her curled up in the beanbag chair she bought at Nakumatt almost a year ago. The price had been wild, to you, not her, and you had asked her why she would want a chair that wasn’t even really a chair. Why not pick something…sturdier, you had asked. Something that stood on four legs and had a proper back rest and that you sat on, not sunk in. She had laughed in that light and airy laugh of hers and shooed you away. If you’re not going to be supportive, then I will look for support elsewhere, she said, Like in this nice attendant who, I’m sure, will help me find the perfect one. The attendant had smiled— thank God it had been a man—and he looked easy-going enough to find the humor in her words, and had turned to her looking just as supportive as she had wanted. See? She had mocked you. Read more

Honour, Courage, Industry

High school was a strange period. You have this diverse group of 1000 girls, all so different in all manner of ways, and somehow you still succeed in creating and maintaining an annoying sameness. Looking back now, I find it remarkable how unremarkable we all were. There were few people who had a significant something that set them apart, made them truly special. For the rest of us, it was that uniqueness that can only be justified by small things: quirks, idiosyncrasies, oddities. Uniqueness that turns out to be of the same variety as every other uniqueness, and therefore becomes generic. The things that made us ‘stand out’, the things distinguished us from each other were all characteristics that, in the long run, turned out to mean nothing: This girl sleeps while standing during assembly on cold Monday mornings; that girl has an alarming number of alleged boyfriends; that girl is simply too bright and should just be kicked out of school for it because she makes the rest of us look like we came to school because we like to hang out here (Yes, Wangare. We will never forget). They were fun and some of them were hilarious. I had a classmate whose very essence was made of ‘udaku’, so much so that she learned how to read lips so that she would know what people were talking about even if they were talking in hushed tones while standing five metres away from her. These things made the four years bearable, even enjoyable sometimes, and helped take our minds off how desperate we all were to leave. Read more

We are not on the same journey.

So blogger Mark Maish has been doing the PerceptionVsReality series and, frankly, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t (at least in some part) terrified. Coming to the end of college is different from coming to the end of high school. Yes, you’re happy about the prospect of not having to wake up to go to class anymore…but because you’re not dumb, you’re unhappy about having to wake up to go to work. If you’re lucky. And that for a boss who won’t care about those your excuses. Ati oh I was sick, oh I had travelled. Sick for who? Kwanza, people say a lot of things about my school and most times I will defend it and say that they are speaking out of ignorance because it’s really not that bad. And complain all you want, but we are the ones not going to class next Tuesday because it’s the 4th of July so who is really winning here? Still, sometimes, the kinds of things that happen here are fascinating and cannot be defended. One time a girl in my class missed an exam and later said that she could not have possibly come to school that day because her cat died. Which would be fine if we were on American soil, I suppose. But we’re in a country where the idea of pets being bought their own food instead of eating our leftovers is still scandalous. Ati dog food. Wharrathooz? Here, dogs sleep outside and they will eat hiyo ugali ya jana usiku or they will starve. Seriously, upcountry, our dogs used to be fed majani ya chai. What remains in the sufuria after you’ve made tea, plus the sieved tea leaves? Yeah, that. Until my brother took it upon himself to educate everyone on the dangers of this, and later on, to feed the dogs himself when people refused to understand what he was saying. He mentioned the phrase ‘a dog’s diet’ to my parents and my mother asked him whether the dogs had told him they want to lose weight. I’m telling you my family sometimes. Read more

In Pursuit of Wokeness

I was a relatively sheltered child. My parents’ particular band of strictness coupled with my personality came together to make sure of that. I had few friends and I didn’t really like being outside the house. The few times I did want to go, say, to a friend’s house, I had to say where I wanted to go, why I wanted to go, what I was going to do, who I was going to be with, and what time I planned on coming back…and then wait for a no or a yes. This made me like going out even less because it just didn’t seem worth the hassle. Up until I was 14 my official curfew was 4 pm.  Most of the time, it didn’t bother me because I preferred to be reading in my room anyway.  When I describe details of my childhood to people, I get a lot of ‘woiyes’. I don’t blame them. The sympathy is particularly loud when I say that I never had any dolls (I asked my parents to buy me books instead, and they did) or that because I had few friends and hardly went out, my brother and I entertained ourselves all day long with silly made-up games and imaginary friends.  But it was pretty good for me and if I had to do it again I would change very little.

There is a point to this. Read more

Older, Wiser

Imali does not like people to make a fuss on her birthday. She is one of those weird people who have something against celebrating a feat that was not even your own—your mother did all the work after all. If there is anybody who needs a cake and the indescribable joy of seeing an unexpected Mpesa text, it is her, not you. But no, I honestly don’t know what she has against birthdays. A quiet ‘happy birthday’ and a few heart emojis will do for her. God forbid that you begin splashing it all over her Facebook timeline. What I do know is that I am one of those other kinds of people. The ones who make sure that anybody who happens to be in their life at that particular time, and sometimes even those who are not, knows from the 1st of whichever month they were born in that their birthday is coming soon. The ones you see posting things like ‘Queens were born in May’. Dare anybody use the excuse: “Aki I didn’t even know”. If you forget my birthday, that’s wholly on you and you shall feel my pettiness coming through when your birthday rolls up and you get not even a HBD on your timeline from me. Speaking of HBD…honestly guys, it’s not even a legitimate wish; you can do better. And the ones who say Happy Born Day…Why? Read more

Networking and Such Other Uncomfortable Activities

One of my favourite stereotypes is of the demographic referred to as ‘creatives’.

If you want to be thrown into this group at a glance, here is a quick guide. You only need to do something about your hair. Cut it short and go natural. Then dye it a colour like red, blonde or even green. The bolder the better. The last person who will be stereotyped as a creative is a woman with relaxed hair. Because perhaps the relaxer burns the all of the creativity away or something like that. No, those ones belong in finance or pharmacy. Or, get dreadlocks. Make sure you colour them too. If neither of those is for you, get an afro, preferably with a side part. Remember, bigger afros exude more artistry. And if your hair is in braids, try as much as possible to avoid kawaida braids. Marley extensions are very popular. Also, colour. Are you beginning to see a theme here? You can also do baby locks or shave half of your head and let the other half remain with natural coloured hair. A word of caution though, don’t go all out because then people begin to group you with the high school kids who stand in the middle of the street in groups to take selfies. Hapo Galitos on Moi Avenue. You need to be bold, but like, in an artsy way, you get? Read more

Unrequited

The way these things end depends on a variety of things. The weather. The place. The state of our hearts and whether we knew each other’s favourite colours. Or the shape of each other’s dreams. My favourite colour was blue and you knew this. You made a point of making sure I knew that you knew; trying to sell yourself, I guess. So willing. You were so willing to dive into whatever I was made of and discover everything there was to me; to clothe yourself in my scent, my opinions, my laughter. You were the kind of guy who describes a girl he likes by saying things like, “She’s an enigma; I can’t understand her and I can’t stop trying.”

The way it ended was with your broken heart in my palms and mine intact within my chest.

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Not Your Property

So there I was, standing at the stage, waiting for a mat and wondering why the sun had to be so unkind. There was nobody else there apart from a bodaboda guy whom I had already turned down because my issues with motorbikes run deep and I refuse to use them despite how convenient everybody else in Nairobi seems to find them. Story for another day. Then this random guy arrives and positions himself next to me. He has a struggling beard, an un-ironed shirt, and a nice pair of shoes. He looks like a regular, decent guy. I can already see what’s coming though, and I wince when he begins. Read more

Caught

On a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, it will hit you, perhaps for the first time, how little a human life costs. The price of a mid-range smart phone.

You will be clutching at your bag, taking short hurried steps along Tom Mboya Street. There are always people here, and now, as rush hour begins, it seems that the entire city is here. You will turn this way and that, dodging scowling men who bump past you, refusing to acknowledge the small space you take up on the street, squeezing past wide, waddling women, strolling slowly in the busiest part of town, gossiping probably, clapping their hands to punctuate their sentences. Read more