She starts off with a ballad. Professing her deepest desires. The ballad is of other people. People living their lives, creating mental pictures and passing messages. She sings this song for a little over a minute, until you realize the whole thing is one huge ballad. “Back then I thought that all you needed to do was have a good voice, turn on the microphone and use that particular platform” But after high school, she realized she needed a little bit more education to compliment her good voice.
For her, the roadmap was through poaching. That’s how she thought it would work. There are a lot of realizations she comes to in her life, and she quickly realized the poaching thing only worked for animals that were already seasoned. No young ewe was getting poached. The meat was too tender. Too inexperienced. She needed to follow her journey, according to her, her destiny.
The first time Stella, shortened to STL Yamumo [because what do you need vowels for anyway?] got to interact with radio, it was with a vernacular radio station. It was an internship she did while on campus. “This was the first time where I was supposed to be very fluent in my mother tongue and unfortunately, I wasn’t.” It was, however, a starting point for her. The young ewe was released into the jungle, and the poachers were readying their blades and oiling their spears [who knows what poachers do, anyway]
“I got to learn a lot. The team was very amazing.” She was taught, encouraged and laid the founding blocks of her destiny. “After campus, you think it’s going to be easy to get a job [spoiler alert: it isn’t]. I was listening to the radio [a station that she insists closed, just so you guys don’t go applying to them now to test your destinies] and the presenter, who is now an established actor, said ‘You know, if you’re out there, you’re passionate about radio, you wanna co-host with me, come through and co-host’.
STL Yamumo went through with the message and got a DM back. If she was in Nairobi, would she come to the station at this time?
It was traffic that did her in that first gig. Nairobi traffic can be a pain, you’d think with all the running we’re known for, we would have figured out cars are not really a great thing to have around in large numbers, but a girl can only hope. She was a few minutes late, but it went pretty great. “That was one of the best times I had on air! It confirmed to me that I was on the right path.”
Fast forward to getting her first radio job. There were 2 rounds of auditions, the result of which you can only speculate as she was hosting a mid-morning show on Youth Empowerment. “I remember my first day on air (she chuckles) like it was yesterday. I had done a lot of demos and shows, but my first time doing a three-hour show ALONE, with the producer over there, giving me prompts, queuing me in, telling me to back up from the microphone, introduce a song, have a conversation, all that. By the time I was done with the three hours…whoa [I always picture rono.h doing the whoa when I hear whoa. Am I alone? I may never know] Niliskia ni kama nimetoka mjengo. I was tired, mentally, physically, [All the allys].
Her laugh is vibrant. She has one of those laughs that has you turning to see who it is. A laugh filled with bubbles and flowers and puppies. It vibrates in your ears from her throat. You feel it in your chest, as if you made the sound. A laugh that ripples through people. It is a laugh that I would not mind hearing on the radio while driving down a dirt road. A laugh full of color.
“And I can tell you for sure that many people don’t look at being a presenter like it’s a tiresome job. Whether you’re on radio or TV, people don’t look at it like it is. They think you just walk in, you talk, you play music, you talk, and before you know it, you’re done.”
It’s a lot because you have to give the listener new information. On the radio, as she tells me, you speak to one person. [Light bulb; that’s why it’s mpenzi mtazamaji, na sio ile ya kukata maji. Singular]. “Every time you feed the music then turn the mic on, or the cameras come on, what new information are you giving this person? Sure, I was tired but I chose this path, so I knew I had to keep walking, like Johnny Walker [Ah, that laugh again. But also, and I realize I’m putting a lot of my thoughts into this telling, the whiskey joke is totally hers. I promise, I didn’t hold a gun to her head and ask her to say it. I will say, however, that I was very glad to hear it]
“You keep learning as you move, sometimes you forget to turn on the mic, you’re talking and then the producer is like, ‘your mic is off’, other times you’re flowing and forget to turn off the mic and then the producer is like [say it with me, kids] ‘Yo, the mic is on!’ Then systems in the studio will simply fail you, songs will not play, so you have to learn along the way and keep getting better as time goes on” But definitely after the producer has said ‘Yo, the systems are failing you’ or something of the sort.
Talanta Mtaani is a show that celebrates talent; something that STL Yamumo wishes existed when she was growing up. “I am one person who is crazy about talent. Every Tuesday, on my radio show, I get to hostTalent Tuesday.” She calls herself “an artistic person. She emcees, does radio, TV and podcast shows. “I always feel like if I started earlier, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with my shyness.”
She and her friend started by working on radio and ended up on Talanta Mtaani together. “It was at a time in our lives where money wasn’t coming through from the radio [no one told them to send 90 bob to a number], so we wanted to do more.” So they brainstormed TV ideas.
The year was 2016, the month April and their minds were working overtime. They took their first idea to a particular TV station and spoke to the head of production. Producer loved it. Producer asked them to shoot and edit and bring the whole thing to life, then sell him the content. They were dumbfounded. “The only thing we had were the skills and the idea,” she says. Producer told them not to worry. Who was he after all? He could sort them out.
They did a script and planned for the shoot day. “It was this amazing, grand idea. Trust me, when I say it was big, it was big.” I trust her. At the end of the day, exhausted beyond exhaustion, beyond taking so many takes since, as she says, it takes a lot, they had the footage. They handed it over to the editor.
In broadcast, when you slot a program for 30 minutes, it means the show should be about 24 minutes. You have to consider the ads, you know, where most of the money comes from. By the time the editor finished his shenanigans, STL Yamumo and her friend’s show was 12 minutes long. She laughs again.
They go back to shooting. “For continuity purposes, you have to try to wear the same clothes, have the same hairstyle [another laugh]” The footage gets back to the editor. It was July. and they were done with the pilot episode. The TV station shut down.
With their dreams down the drain, they never even got to see their own pilot episode. They went back to the drawing board. Well, as much drawing as people behind microphones and cameras do. Good thing was, this time, they had a backlog of ideas from the previous brainstorm sessions in April. They pitched their ideas to different TV stations.
They met someone who couldn’t understand an idea they pitched. “I tell him, he doesn’t remember much of that story, but what he remembers is that he saw I was talented. He called me a week or two after pitching and said he had an idea. He was asking her to host it. He told her about this talent show that he wanted to start, and she was like, “Talent is my thing so here I come!”
And that is how she became the host of Talanta Mtaani Show.
Preachers’ kids always come with an elaborate backstory. You will not find one without a story. They live double lives, become gangsters, altar boys and economists. Not that there is a line that shows where the robe gives way to the face mask. You have to figure them out yourselves. They can be slippery. They have mastered the art of living in tales. Average is not a word that has been associated with any I have met, and I would definitely like to be proven wrong. PKs are a special breed. Their parents preach the gospel while they serenade the streets.
His father stood on the podium every Sunday, and he in the streets the rest of the week. Both preached the gospel, saving as many souls as they could. The son emulating the man. People understood his need to stand on the pile of sand at the side of his mother’s shop as he echoed his father’s words. His mother’s shop was next to a hotel and a construction site. The perfect concoction to generate the ideal audience for a young performer. Vince was 4 years old and commanding the attention of crowds. Tell me this is not a true child of the church.
His body moved before he realized his voice could move the hearts of girls all over the nation. His first love was dance. Saturdays were for Club Kiboko and working on choreography. “I was 9 or 10 and had to go to choir practice. I would make choreographies for the church. The congregation each Sunday was of about 250 people. They would give a decent round of applause and it made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.”
He went to boarding school in Class Five [show me someone who didn’t]. That was when he realized he had some serious pipes too. “It was only right that I started out writing gospel songs. I was from a religious family [and he was just being practical. If he started with secular, his father may have rebuked the devil that was in him]. He was a 10-year-old lyricist, penning choruses and “little raps”. He was the go-to entertainer at school. The guy who sang for guests and read poems to his peers at assembly.
It did not come as a Eureka moment for Vince. It was in him. He woke up on Saturdays pumped for practice. No one had to drill the excitement into him. It came pouring out. “Why do I do what I do? I do it because I love it. Because I love to put smiles on other people’s faces. Because I like seeing people dance. To laugh, cry. I like being a part of people’s moments.” He also does it for himself. It makes him feel good about himself. Pouring his soul into others fills him in ways he never imagined possible.
As he stood on the sand emulating his father, he remembers being liked. He was the kid hanging out with anyone and everyone. The child hiding between the feet of grown men under shade, preaching the gospel like his father. The 4-year-old who knew what he wanted before he knew anything else. Crowds drew to him. The child talking about a man he knows not. The child that preaches and sings and dances and choreographs for the church. At some point, however, even the preacher’s kid realizes music comes in many forms, and he succumbs to the ways of the world.
Vince was sitting in a boring oral presentation class in Multimedia University of Kenya. He was dressed in a suit, waiting to give his kickass presentation. The group giving their presentation was not as interesting as they hoped to be, and Vince was bored. He chuckles when he says this. He has had only 2 hours of sleep and has a voice so groggy it forced me to listen to his voice note more times than I actually needed to. Back to him in class. He opens Instagram and the first post he sees is by King Kaka.
The post asked for singers. That those with sultry morning voices should belt out the latest song at the time by the King, and see what happens. It was all very mysterious.
Class ended at around 2pm. He went home in his presentation suit. He did not change clothes, recorded the video of himself singing in suit and tie [Cue J.T]. He showed them a few things his voice could do. They loved him. They invited him to Kaka’s studios. There were three winners, Vince, Brandon and Ethan.
“I was 2 hours late to meet with the guys. The others had met with him and mimi ndiyo walikuwa wananingoja.”
They hung out around the studio and started singing. “King wasn’t there so we just started singing. We were like; Oh my God. Yeah. This is nice. Mh nice. You have a nice voice. Oh, I have a nice voice? No, you have a nice voice. Oh stop. Gush. Sigh.” [I exaggerate a little but you get the point]
King [Yes, I am forcing this first name basis] wanted to create “the next big thing. The next singing group, band, group thingy [Vince’s words]. None of the three minded doing it, and Jadi began its serenade to Nairobi’s rooftops. “We realized our dreams were based on the same path, and we wanted to walk down it together.”
Jadi means tradition. Your roots. The smell of rain in your hometown. Your mother’s special Sunday evening stew that you tear hot Chapatti into. The sleep in your eyes when you are woken up by the matron for preps. Okay, maybe not that last one. “We wanted our name to remind us of our tradition. We want to always make music that we love. Music that we think is substantial and resonates with people.”
“Meeting with the guys has made me into a better singer. Before Jadi, I was singing on campus, going to events, and performing. I was singing everywhere I could and that helped me develop more as a singer. It helped to make the audition easier. Now, I am producing my songs and can confidently say that I am following my dreams. I’m giving it my all and am not going to stop doing it.”
Things have definitely changed for him. He understands things better now. He knows about the music industry and business [which he says are totally different. I have no knowledge in this business/industry and will take his word for it].
“I think I have become a better musician over time. We have made some money. We have faced hardships. But hard times make the journey interesting. I have grown tough skin. I have improved on my skill set too. I was just a singer when I joined Jadi. Now I am a singer, a pianist and am becoming a producer. I’m getting better.”
Vince has identified a problem he has. That of needing appreciation. He relies on people telling him he did great. He sings well. He is talented. Vince feeds on compliments. He lives for the applause. They boost his spirit. He recognizes this is something he needs to stop doing. To stop waiting for validation, but the business thrives on it. Charts and comments and views and compliments. The business of a performer is directly influenced by his audience’s reaction. Their satisfaction. Their reviews. Validation. “I am big on opinions. It is something I have recently learned I need to change. I take people’s opinions to heart, whether good or bad. I appreciate it so strongly. People who tell me they believe in me end up motivating me. People love to hear that stuff. To hear ‘you’re awesome, keep going’, you know? [I do know]
Also, the other thing that has changed is his parents now take him seriously as an artist. Jadi has a lot to offer in the music industry and business and they are chasing the bag. “We have had some hard times, and I hope more are not coming, but I’m ready for it.”
Well, I am still facing procrastination hurdles but at least the day is not yet over, right kids?
Since everyone was talking about Malcolm and Marie, I decided to watch it. No, I lie. I don’t care what anyone thinks. I wanted to see the film since the first trailer was released. I just wanted to watch it after everything was calm. After the film critics had given their takes and the crowd had applauded or condemned it. It is the same reason to my watching Bridgerton this week. I liked the movie from the trailers. It was full of red flags and emotion, two things that go hand in hand.
Malcolm and Marie is an investigation into what makes them work. Into why Marie allows him to insult her while eating her food. Into what makes them such an incompatible pair that they seem like a couple that needed to be together to finally be apart [Do you get that?]
I watched it yesterday, and I would like to bring you into a world I create for them.
Malcolm is young. He writes as a hobby. It is something he wants to do professionally, but he has never been a creative. His brain only lulls. There is no spark begging to be ignited in his writing. He lacks an edge. His writing has no life. No breath.
Marie is full of life. Her insides scream to be released. She has a longing for better times. Where she is, lying on a cardboard box in the alley with no family, she hangs between her longing and facts. Truth allows her to accept that she may die here, or at a similar place. She may be lucky to end up in a hospital bed, dying with antiseptic in the air. She has nothing to live for, and yet everything to live for. She hangs on the balance.
When they meet, Malcolm a self-righteous arsehole and Marie a suicidal mess, they are connected. It may be the same thing that connects the North Pole to the South. The same thing that unites the positive and negative ends of a battery. It may be purely coincidental. But Malcolm lays his eyes on her and knows this is his ticket. Marie looks at him and wonders what kind of death he brings.
They remember this meet. It is a turning point for both parties. For Malcolm, Marie is his muse. The guide to his next masterpiece. The star of his next film [that they come from when we meet them]. To him, she is someone who can help him out of the hole no one actually dug.
For Marie, he is an excuse. A get out of jail free card. Malcolm represents everything she wants to be; clean. She has longed for someone like him to look her way, and finally, FINALLY, he has. He is put together where she falls apart. Intact where she holds her cracks. He is to be her savior. From the alley, the drugs, the upside down life. She sees his greed. His malevolence. She just ignores it. She knows that look. Everyone around her has had it since she was nine years old. A look that suggests she is more than she actually is. That gives her purpose. That provides the validity she needs in her life.
Together, they are perfect. At least at first. They complete parts of each other they didn’t even know they had. They see parts of themselves in the other. Together they are more broken than they were apart.
Malcolm holds Marie’s hand as she gets clean. Through the sweating and the shakes. At one point, she looks at his face and sees genuine concern. He appears to actually care for her. But she also sees the greed. He wants something from her. She is unsure what will happen once he gets it.
As she gets clean, Malcolm sees the potential that Marie represents. He basks in it. Savors it. He knows he must make use of it at some point, but for now, he only wants her clean. Well enough to regale her tale to him. To open up. Tell him her story. Why was she in that alley? Is family involved? Is there anyone else to help him care for her? All he has are questions, and Marie is comfortable enough to answer them in due time.
It takes her a while to open up, but she eventually does. This is something she comes to regret later. Giving him the privilege to tell her story without involving her. Allowing him to cut her out of her own narrative.
Malcolm and Marie starts off with Malcolm in a celebratory mood. A celebration that Marie does not seem to share. He celebrates the success of a movie he based on her. Her life before him. Inside, she wishes she had the chance to tell it herself. She wishes she had the option to say yes and no. To choose things that did not work for her, like the topless scene that takes away the protagonist’s power. All she has left are wishes. That she never told him her story. That she never trusted him. That she could say no or yes to at least one prop. What she got was a chance to review dialogue. To suggest that this or that would best be said is such a manner. That was all. Words that came from her mouth sounded strange in Taylor’s tongue. She will have to live with it.
She could leave and let him look for his next project. She should. But he is nothing without her. His first thought when he wakes up is her. Where is she? What is she doing? If she leaves, he will break. He may possibly get his own movie after all. I don’t think she will, though.
Well, kids, this was a little different. I watched this film and so many things swirled in my mind that I HAD to place them somewhere. My first rant of the year.
The Butterfly Effect is a theory that offers an idea of the greatness of small things. That a butterfly can flap its wings, move two grains of sand and cause a typhoon at the end of the chain is fascinating. I never really thought that much about it until A Sound of Thunder. Ray Bradbury is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors especially in his time travel stories. In A Sound of Thunder, Ray suggests a cause and effect option. That stepping on a butterfly 300 million years in the past directly impacts a presidential election in 2055. The story is insane, and involves a Tyrannosaurus rex [my favorite of the rexes] and I am in awe.
So, in true novice fashion, I will try to channel my Ray in this story, [not that it will be difficult]
We begin in a classroom in Loresho Primary. The making of a prodigy.
The classroom is quiet. No one talks, only one thing is on everyone’s mind. Will they make it? Will they be chosen? Is this their time. One particular boy stands out. Eric. He bubbles inside. If you were to put the excitement of each girl and boy in the room on a chart, Eric’s would not be on it. No scale could carry his. There were ripples in his chest. He would have sold his left foot to be on the list.
The class prefect stood up from his desk. He walked as if the weight was not on his shoulders at all. An irresponsible man. A man who did not know the power he possessed. Heavy, was not the crown. Eric did not make the list. The prefect had a score to settle and our man was the ball.
Crying wouldn’t help so he did not bother. He could sulk or go out and look for another chance to be cast in a play for the talent show. Eric went out, and may have stepped on a butterfly that made the Class Eight people decide to also stage a play. He was cast, since he was small, a Class Five kid, as a child in the Class Eight play. He was phenomenal!
“I was tiny! So I was cast as a kid,” he tells me. “That is where my interest began. We did the skit and people kept laughing. Nilikuwa nashindwa mbona wanacheka. I didn’t have any lines, but my actions, my facials sold me.”
The Drama Club patron asked him to participate in the next year’s drama festivals, and his career literally began.
He starred in his first production when he was in Class Six.
Eric had two paths he knew he would take. “I wanted to either be a footballer or to be seen on TV. That was my dream. But I wasn’t getting picked to play football. Life has a funny way of unfolding events.” He received certificates for his performances. There are so many certificates mentioned on this voice note that I cannot keep this story interesting and tell you each time he got one. One thing has to go, and I choose his certificates. You should know, there are a LOT of them.
“One time, there were sponsors who came to our school. They were asking everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. Answers ranged from doctoring to lawyering, [you know, Kenyan versions of success] but I said I wanted to be an actor.” The mzungu was impressed.
The mzungu told him he would look for Eric once he was done with high school. He was excited, as any Kenyan boy under sponsorship would.
In Class Eight, since he was a candidate, he could not participate in a school production. Kenyan schools prioritize passing national exams over talent. But, the butterfly was stepped on once more and the script needed his prowess. He was the exception. The only Class Eight pupil allowed to be in the show.
When they were selecting the high schools they wished to go to, his choice was based solely on the schools’ drama performance. He chose a school in Nyeri, Mukuruini Boys. He didn’t get in. His grades weren’t good enough for Mukuruini, and his family could also not afford the school fees for such a heavy weight school, but the butterfly still lives. The school right next to Mukuruini is Mweru High School. Mortal enemies to his dream school. If Mukuruini was Mr. Krabs, Mweru was Plankton.
Form Ones in Mweru were not allowed to be in plays. They probably needed to flesh out the ones who would get lost in the funkie crowds. Form Ones have a naiveté that Mweru did not want to deal with. The butterfly, still stuck in his foot, allowed him to sing. It gave him an edge, and he was, surprise surprise, the exception.
Mweru went on to reach National level competitions for the first time in it’s existence. They were second, and Eric says the Alliance Girls’ performance was not as great as theirs [he should know]. They got some perks for their secondness; a school bus, more certificates and a performance at State House that was shifted to KICC. The drama teacher transferred and no one stood up for their rights. It was as if a switch to the sun was found. Everything dimmed out, curtains!
Form Three forced Eric to write his very first script. There was no teacher in charge so he wore the pants. It is a safe bet that he had some idea on what to do. He had seen a good number of scripts in his lifetime. He joined hands with the less talented Drama Club chairman and they got to Nationals level. They were second.
In Form Four, he met Aliwa, a dude who made the same promise as the mzungu. “Look for me when you’re done with school.”
After high school, there was no doctoring or lawyering for Eric. He joined a local theatre group. He acted out set books and church plays. Did odd acting jobs that paid less than enough. Then he met Lodeki who taught him acting, directing, producing and all that appertains to the stage.
Eric found Aliwa. Eric moved out from home. Eric’s dad wanted him to become a lawyer. Eric refused to go to University. He prioritized talent over lawyering. He put together a group and called it Kinship Theater and Arts. They went on putting together skits for the church, and since whatever you put in you pull out, the church gave him rehearsal space.
When he called out for his first auditions in 2016, he was spoilt for choice. There were so many people who came it, and he only needed a dozen people. The church hall was great, but not so much. There were echoes. “It was not designed as a theatre hall so there were a number of challenges,” he adds. “The theatre group was demanding, we had no money. It was hard.”
He attended script writing seminars, did short contracts and gained some experience.
Eric’s big break came from the set of Beba Beba [Kenyans remember this. Apologies to my diaspora peeps. Beba means carry. Beba Beba was a local TV drama series that aired a few years back] He was hired as an extra. Some guy to walk past a matatu. Some dude to fill the matatu. [The show was matatu based. It revolved around passengers in said matatu. Oh, and matatu is a van, I think, or small bus. But I digress]
As the extra, he formed relationships with the crew and cast. He got more episodes to pass in vicinity in till he wrote a script that impressed them. He wrote more Beba Beba scripts. “That was also how I found myself writing for Real Househelps of Kawangware (RHOK). I started off as an actor, then went off to directing and now, Eric Mdagaya is the Casting Director at RHOK.
For the fourth year now, Kinship has been doing monthly theatre plays at Kenya National Theatre. They have been derailed with COVID, like everyone else, but that is what they do.
“Theatre has not been easy. I remember we would hit shows that would have a total audience of 14 people. It gets you in trouble. You have paid for the hall, there is no more money to pay the actors. And yeah, some of them understand the situation, but some don’t. You acquire debts to pay people because from Friday to Sunday you have received an audience of 14. But you have to do it. You get on that stage and hold on.” Their slogan has become ’14 is not just a number’.
He sees growth. He has built a fan base. Marketing the shows is easier now. He knows people. The challenges are not as huge as they were when he was starting out.
“You build a brand, like mine is ‘Super Director’. You have a name out there, but nothing in your pockets. It is a very depressing industry. You get to a point where nothing you do works. Nothing makes sense. But this is the life you have chosen. No one is forced into acting, you choose it. I chose it. All I can say is I believe in this and nothing can hold me back. I already decided that this is what I am doing, and this is what I am going to do for life.”
He realized he likes teaching. Imparting the knowledge of his craft to others. He teaches performing arts and theatre production, from his talent. He has not studied any of it in school. He is qualified from that Class Five classroom when his stomach bubbled. His life is on stage. It has entwined itself in him that he cannot say where the stage begins and he ends.
I forgot to ask about the mzungu deal.
Well kids, I finally finished this story just in time for January’s second post. I’d say I’m doing well, wouldn’t you?
It’s my birthday on Sunday, my stomach bubbles. I’m so old, lol.
There was a time last year when I decided I will stop lying to myself. I realized I was not happy. With myself, my situation, even my writing. Now, I get happiness starts with me. I do. I understand that I make myself happy. But put that aside for one minute and become human. Realize with me that external factors affect us. Affected me. Swallow it. Let that thought, before you begin to have reinforced steel around your choice to be happy goes up. Listen.
I realized I was faking everything. That I only faced the truth when I was alone, and could not even admit it to myself. A depressive period. A time when I wrote the following words.
I hate writing. Now. I hate thinking up words. I hate defining things. I hate thinking of a full paragraph and then some in my head, because my fingers do not connect as well anymore. My heart does not feel the flow. I sit and put things down that end up making zero sense to me. I hate it. It annoys me that I rethink everything. Every word out of my brain, every letter at my fingertips.
This feeling has been there for me, in the sense of a blockage that lets nothing out. It is writer’s block. I feel it. I have had it before. I know it from a previous time or two, but in those times, it left as soon as it came on. This? This feels like something out of the ordinary.
You want to know what I did before? I let it be. I allowed it to consume me. I gave it power, because I had realized it was an ordinary part of the process. “I always get over it. Always come out on the other end.” I did. I just don’t trust myself this time. The surety that was there in my heart is gone. Put out like a match in the wind. Out, without warning.
I tried a couple of things. One that worked well for me was trying to place my situation in a practical world.
Let me try to explain it, maybe that will help. It’s a well. A borehole if you will. A tapered shaft bored into the ground that is used for extraction. A pump is used to extract whatever it is. Water, gas, the alphabet. Now, the pump is manmade. It breaks. It needs maintenance, repairs. I know how to repair the pump. There is a system in place. I have a sometimes imperfect plan on how to, but the pump always roars again. ALWAYS. This time, I’m not so sure.
It is not a practical world. The borehole cannot work without the pump. I have both. What I was missing was something to turn the pump on. To help me access the water. The alphabet.
There have been lies over the last few years. Promises made and broken. I have lied to myself, which is insane to me. I pride myself in the art of truth. I don’t see reason to fabricate things, because I do enough of that in my writing. I cook up stories about everything. Cats, trees, even the sun.
This is not my reinvention. What am I reinventing anyway? I am not a new person. I am not different. What I am, is older [this number is really getting up there]. And wiser. I intend on using this wisdom going forward. I have had a lot of lessons this past year. A LOT of them. I had to unlearn some of the things I had held on to dearly. I had to distance myself from everything that pulled me farther from the switch to my pump.
I am not saying I am there. I am saying I now have a system. A method and the support I require to get to where the switch is. I am working every day to get to it. I am working every day to do better. Be better. Hydrate and mind my business. [That’s a weird word; Business. Like a thing to get money with, but also, a thing that keeps you busy. The act of being busy. Busy+Ness] My business, of course, being here. You, me, every Thursday.
Last year’s theme was Young Love. I am not changed so I see no reason for is to change. It also makes no sense to introduce you to a new theme when you have provided about two dozen stories on the theme. It is weird how you guys still sent in stories when I have not been writing. My 2021 MIRAWU planner is filled, and I am in awe. You may have been the method I needed.
I used to write more. In my teens, heck, even in my pre-teens. As I get older, I need to write more. At least more than the last few years. Here’s to hoping.
So, we continue with Young Love 2.1. I wanted to call it 2.0 but that eerily sounds so last year [Ha-ha]
Welcome back, kids! So excited.
There’s an elegant symmetry to traditional wedding vows: for better or for worse. But love is not symmetrical, and most of us don’t realize how lopsided it can be. The worse matters far more than the better in marriage or any other relationship. That’s how the brain works.
Our thoughts and feelings are skewed by what researchers call the negativity effect, which is our tendency to respond more strongly to negative events and emotions than to positive ones. I don’t take well to compliments. I don’t know what to do with my hands, or where to look or what to say. I get tongue tied, waiting, wishing it would all end. I know a hell lot of what to do with criticism.
When I hear a mix of compliments and criticism, I obsess over the criticism instead of enjoying the praise. This imbalance, also known as the negativity bias, evolved in the brain because it kept our ancestors alert to deadly threats. But too often it warps our perspective and behavior. A small conflict can have ruinous consequences when the power of bad overwhelms your judgment. It provokes you to actions that further alienate whoever is listening. I would fare better by using my rational brain to override irrational impulses, but what is the fun in that?
In relationships, the negativity effect magnifies your partner’s faults, real or imagined. It starts with their ingratitude, because you’re also biased by an internal overconfidence that magnifies your own strengths. So you wonder how your partner can be so selfish and so blind to your virtues—to all that you’ve done for them. You contemplate one of life’s most exasperating mysteries: Why don’t they appreciate me?
I have been battling this sense of appreciation, or lack thereof in the last few weeks. I found myself lashing out, mixing things I meant in a lot that I didn’t. So, I decided to seek help from published and professional sources. Someone to help me escape from the world of Negative Nancies.
I got some answers, thanks to a friend psychologist who has been tracking happiness. He tried to explain to me that happiness is unquantifiable, but used a lot of jargon that I could hardly keep up. Later, I tried to figure out his documents [Yes, I had homework] on my own. He has found, based on the couples’ ratings of their own satisfaction, that marriages usually don’t get better. The ratings typically go downhill over time. The successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline. I know what you think. Marriage = Misery. Not necessarily. The thrill of infatuation fades, so the euphoria that initially bonded a couple cannot sustain them over the decades, but most couples find other sources of contentment and remain satisfied overall (just not as satisfied as at the beginning). Sometimes, though, the decline in satisfaction is so steep that it dooms a marriage. They [He has colleagues] monitored how couples interact and tracked them over time.
Imagine you are dating someone who does something that annoys you. (This may not require a great deal of imagination.) Perhaps your partner is a spendthrift, or flirts with your friends, or zones out in the middle of your stories. How do you respond?
- Let it slide and hope things improve.
- Explain what bothers you and work out a compromise.
- Sulk. Say nothing, but emotionally withdraw from your partner.
- Head for the exit. Threaten to break up, or start looking for another partner.
Those answers form a matrix used in a classic study of how dating couples deal with problems.
My go-to has been option 3 until I get over it. It usually takes me between 2 and 8 days to let something go, and the guy said that this is a destructive option.
Psychologists at the University of Kentucky identified two general strategies, constructive or destructive, each of which could be either passive or active. The constructive strategies sounded sensible and admirable, but they didn’t matter much. Remaining passively loyal had no discernible impact on the course of the relationship; actively trying to work out a solution improved things only a little.
What mattered was the bad stuff, as the psychologists concluded: “It is not so much the good, constructive things that partners do or do not do for one another that determines whether a relationship ‘works’ as it is the destructive things that they do or do not do in reaction to the problems.” When you quietly hang in there for your partner, your loyalty often isn’t even noticed. But when you silently withdraw from your partner or issue angry threats, you can start a disastrous spiral of retaliation.
Sooner or later one person is liable to be negative for so long that the other one starts to respond negatively too. When that happens, it’s hard to save the relationship. Negativity is a tough disease to shake—and it’s highly contagious. Other researchers have found that when partners are separately asked to ponder aspects of their relationship, they spend much more time contemplating the bad than the good. To get through the bad stuff, you need to stop the negative spiral before it begins.
But suppose you’ve managed to survive your courtship without any problems. (This may take more imagination.) You’ve just graduated from dating to blissful matrimony. Your soul soars, your heart sings, and your brain is awash in oxytocin, dopamine, and other neurochemicals associated with love. Good for you. Fall as hard as possible. Make it like one of those dreams where you are falling into a never ending pit of darkness. But remember to deal with the negatives as they come.
Negativity hits young people especially hard, which is one reason that people who marry earlier in life are more likely to divorce than ones who delay marriage. (Another reason is that younger people tend to have less money, which means more stress.)
Most people don’t recognize the negativity effect in their relationships. When most studies ask participants why they think they would be a good partner, they list positive things: being friendly, understanding, good in bed, loyal, smart, funny. These things do make a difference, but what’s crucial is avoiding the negative. Being able to hold your tongue rather than say something nasty
I read this weird African Literature book called Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I cannot talk about it. It is something you need to read on your own. After you are done here today of course, that goes without saying.
You’ll hear about Zeze today.
Usually, I am able to craft a story in 2 days tops. Sometimes I write the whole thing in one sitting for an hour or two. It took me the time it has taken me for this one.
Her favorite color is brown. It used to be purple but life has shown her she needs only a dull color. Something that hides the dirt. Unrecognizable in the dark.
“Sometimes I don’t know what I am,” she starts. “It feels like I am alive. I pinch myself and there I am, feeling it, being alive. I just don’t know for what? I started getting an idea for this question when I read Freshwater and also gave them names. I called them Esther, Joseph, Leviticus, Psalms and Zeze.”
The key attribute to Esther is she is gorgeous and she knows it. The man slayer, as she is so aptly described. Esther knows where to touch to make someone cough. Make them fold into quarters and do her bidding. She plays people like the Fiddler.
“The hems are shorter on her. She is the most sexual thing I know,” she writes. “I cannot explain it. She is tempestuous. Myself? I am very shy with people I like. Hata with people generally. I am never the girl that stands out in a group. Very ordinary.”
There was a party when they were freshmen. She went because her roommates were going and she did not want to remain in the room alone. “There were rumors spread to freshmen about a certain lady ghost who haunted the hostels. I knew they weren’t true, but I did not want to be the one to find out they weren’t.” She comes from a superstitious family, so she went with her friends to the party.
She wore the clothes she had on during the day; a sweater top, black trousers and white Adidas sneakers. Esther went into the party in a skimpy golden shimmery dress and strappy heels.
“The next day, I woke up to my friends telling me of how Esther had worked the party. How flirty she was, how she strutted into rooms with boys’ hands on the small of her back.” She controlled the room, that Esther. The literal embodiment of life of the party. They said that whenever Esther disappeared into a room or went outside for a smoke, they had to look for her. Had to find the oxygen that kept the party’s lungs going.
“I know it sounds like an exaggeration. It never seems normal describing them. I know where the lines are since I clearly set boundaries between me and them. They somehow have found a way to blur the lines. It’s the similarities that gets me, like take Joe for example.
It was both easy and not to notice Joe’s presence. He was extraordinarily smart in all matters books, but pretty gullible when it came to social cues. Joe was the kind who grapped everything taught in class and needed not to go through it again.
Initially, Zeze would recognize him when she was studying. The way her attention would instantly shift from constant distraction to immediate understanding. She liked Joe because he was not destructive. Mostly he would bail her out of situations.
She remembers one time during a Chemistry lesson in high school. The short-tempered teacher was tackling Organic Chemistry for the second time. Mr. Rotich had the tendency to randomly hold oral quizzes in his classes. He would be teaching one minute, ask a question and if the same two hands were raised with an answer he would go into a fit.
Mr. Rotich: Can anyone else other than Sally and Emma answer me? None of you were in this class when I taught this same thing yesterday? (bangs fist on the desk to grab attention) I AM TALKING TO YOU GIRLS. Can anyone else tell me what Organic Chemistry is? No one? (Ignores the two hands still raised) Okay! That’s it. Everyone up! No one sits until I receive a satisfactory answer.
The whole class, except the two know-it-alls would get on their feet.
Mr Rotich: Alright. Let’s start at the front. Mildred, can you tell us what Organic Chemistry is?
The girl at the front would fumble her words, throwing in compounds and elements at improbable sections of her nonsense paragraph, leaving Mr Rotich with an exasperated look on his face.
Zeze would pray. “Not to God. I never pray to him. I feel he is a made up concept. I prayed to whomever was listening. Plead for help from wherever it would come. He was caning anyone who got it wrong and even though I am not proud of it, I would do anything to avoid pain. Anything.
Mr. Rotich was moving through the class, devouring them like a wildfire in the desert. Zeze sat in the middle of the class and she felt suffocated. She did not want to be caned for something she did not know, or rather had simply slipped her mind. The teacher got to her desk mate. “I pleaded with myself as Dinah received her strokes. I was watching her wince in pain and I knew it wasn’t for me, then, as suddenly as if I had known it even before I had heard of it, I recited the whole answer.”
I don’t know how to explain it. The best I can do is that it feels like my body is taken over by someone else. Like Tony Stark and the Mark L. I am usually the suit and my Tonys are Esther and Joseph and the rest of the guys. I don’t understand it myself. I have zero control over it. None. It is like a possession, only I still have my eyes.
I see everything happen. I use my hands to touch items and they don’t really feel like my hands. It feels like I am using gloves, thick ones that won’t allow me to access the real world. Like I have this shield around me that both protects and harms me according to its will.
I do have control over much of my life, and before I could see someone about it, so much had happened. I have been in and out of psychiatrist offices and hospitals. I am only thankful that I never hurt anyone. The episodes are less frequent as of recently.
I can tell you what I think of each of them. Esther is a bitch, but I love her. She takes nonsense from nobody and is so unapologetically herself that I almost feel envious, then I remember she is me. She has this immense sense of self-confidence that I absolutely adore, and if you see that girl work a room? Phew, goosebumps.
Joe is subtler. Smart and cautious. There is something almost calming when I feel his presence. He doesn’t push himself out unless I let him. He is never pretentious, unlike Lev, and always is himself.
When we read Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, I saw myself in Ada. Granted, it is a made up story about personality disorder, coupled with religiosity and obscenities that are relevant to the book, but it holds relevance to me as well. It helped us understand what we are, and that was all we ever needed.
Some of the words used to describe this year’s remake of the Chinese legendary warrior movie were “boring, over-hyped, overrated, awkward, unconvincing and cringe-worthy”. Now, the dictionary version of cringe is to bend one’s head and body in fear or apprehension or in a servile manner. To cringe, in the way they mean, is to dislike something so much that your body curls itself away from said thing. That someone took their time to use this word, would mean they physically hated Niki Caro’s remake so badly that their bodies, independent from their brains, decided to get away from it, which is much if to say unbelievable. Yes, it was not as good as the ’98 version, but most live action remakes [in this case the lack of Mushu] rarely measure up.
Mulan is a 16-year-old girl who tries to hide in a world of men while her chi reigns supreme above all the male species she encounters. She lives by three pillars; loyal, brave and true. Maria said she was brave to open her heart, loyal to all who she gave it to and true to herself. I could not help but liken her to the legendary warrior.
When Maria joined high school, she was 13 years old and younger than most of the students in her class. She was in fact, one of the youngest people in the school. Her physique did not help either, since puberty was just hitting her which meant she was still small on most parts. But she was smart, and even though boys rarely liked smart girls, she did not seem to mind [gerrit?].
She knew from a young age that she was not normal. Granted, no one ever feels normal to my knowledge, but she actually knew she wasn’t. She didn’t like the same things as her friends. First off, she calls them childhood acquaintances, since she feels like she never made any real connections with the so-called friends from younger ages.
“Going to high school meant I had a clean slate. I was not going to hide,” she tells me. She however found herself at a disadvantage. A small smart girl. Boys had nothing to say to her as young since she was still as flat chested as they come and did not like the same things as them anyway. She loved books, a little quiet and a whole lot of nature. Girls in her class liked boys, which meant they too liked loud and dirt and balls (watching for the girls and playing for the other gender) and holding hands. She rarely made any friends, which meant her time was spent alone.
“I started using the library at around week 3 when I realized everything was not as I had hoped. I was doomed to a life of solitude and I was just making my peace with that when Jack appeared to me,” she tells me.
Meeting Jack came as a surprise to both of them. Jack was everything she wanted. Read books, loved the quiet and enjoyed looking at trees and rolling in the grass. Jack was perfect. Jack had a gap in the teeth and always kept the shirt tucked. Neat was her second language. They got along quite well and were soon spending lots of time together.
Basically, this story is going as you expect stories to go. But I am not seated here in the cold with no coffee in my hand to write an ordinary story. Jack had a secret. They shared this secret, Jack and Maria. “It was like we both knew this thing weighed between both of us even before we first spoke. Even before I laid eyes on Jack, I knew it, and Jack knew. It connected us, that we kept this one thing to ourselves, and because we never spoke of it, it was almost sacred.” I like secrets. They give me an edge over the rest of the population. I have one rule on them; don’t tell, because they lose this power immediately you share them. You no longer have the one thing that only you knew. A secret shared is not worth two in the bush. It is worth nothing. Today’s little nugget of wisdom? Keep your secrets, kids. Unless you are telling me of course (wink).
Touch was her favorite sense. When Jack would lean over her shoulder in the library, reading a favorite passage. Passages she can recite by heart to date. When Jack’s little finger would graze hers unintentionally as they were both engrossed in a classic Austen. When Jack read to her, it was like touching her very soul. “We didn’t know it was happening, while being aware of everything in each single moment.” They were doomed to be in love with each other’s souls.
The moment that broke the pot happened on a Thursday afternoon. Thursdays were class library days for form ones. What Jack was doing in the library that day can be found in a rat’s arse. They did not share a table. “It was becoming too obvious that we were into each other, so we decided some distance in public would help put some suspicions to death,” she tells me. [It sounds eerily similar to some high society Jane Austen plot if you ask me]
Maria stood to find a book. Jack stood too, probably out of reflex, and followed. “I pulled the book I needed from the shelf and there she was, looking at me. ‘Stay there. Be quiet’ she told me. I didn’t move. She came to the row I was on, turned me by my shoulders and placed her lips on mine. If there was a time to say I genuinely froze, it was then. Until I kissed her back.”
She cannot tell how long the stood there, lip-locked with a forgotten encyclopedia between them in her hands. “I only remember the gasps. I can still hear them today,” she says.
In their temporary escape from reality, a classmate had come in search of the same book that was miserably failing to act as a barrier and had quickly called for other spectators.
“The next thing I remember was being pushed into the bookcase and Jack fleeing from me. I also remember feeling cold. Not from the weather, but from dread. It was the end of something that had barely began.”
If this was a perfect story, we would say Maria got the conversation she needed. The conversation that cleared things up. That had Jack tell her why she did what she did, or at least had her apologize for letting the whole school believe that she pushed herself up on Jack and forced the kiss. It would have had Jack explain why she lied to their parents when they were called to the school to explain the “demonic behavior” as the discipline mistress had it so well put. Maybe, all the nineteen times that Maria tried to get Jack alone to talk about it would have given her an answer instead of jeers and insults and accusations of stalking, writing “secret love letters” (that she still does not understand where they came from) and branding of filthy, filthy names. Names that she asked me not to repeat because she can barely stomach the thought of them, leave alone seeing them associated with her one more time.
“I have always liked girls. I grew up crushing on Melissa Joan Hart on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and the Spice Girls. So I kinda knew I was of the community, I just never expected my first chance at opening the blood pumper would be so chaotic and full of all it had. I wish it was different, but it also made me braver. It forced me to learn that nothing can come at me and defeat me. So, in a way, Jack gave me bravery without knowing it. I also knew that hiding helped nothing, I mean, you can stay in if you aren’t ready, but immediately you feel ready, all you need to do is be true to yourself and everything else will fall into place.”
She says she knows it is difficult. That knowing what you want and actually going for it are two separate things that can seem worlds apart, but they aren’t. She describes truth and loyalty as neighbors who don’t know each other until one steps out and decides to meet the other. “Once they meet, all you need is the bravery to face anything and all things that come at you.”
Mulan is her favorite movie. The animation, not the Niki Caro version. “Mulan is in a world that she needs to come out on top of. If she fails, everything goes to shits. If one of the boys finds out she is a she, I mean, look at what happened to me. So she holds her secret until she is at the precipice, just waiting to tip over, to turn herself in. She waits until they know how loyal she is to the cause, how brave she has been through the bathroom trips and sleeping in a dorm-like situation with filthy, crude men, to show them her true self. And she does it like a freaking boss. I think we can all learn something from her,” she says.
I think we can learn something from both of them.
[I’m keeping my promises now. Cool, huh?]
We all have at least one anecdote from this specific Pizza Inn. You know the one, right? You have waited outside of it for some late Cathy who told you they would be there by 2pm but it is now 3:42 and the small of your back has started singing, or you have bought ice-cream at the Creamy Inn then realized you would have gotten 2 for a cheaper price. You have broken hearts walking along it and love has been declared in between its tables. It’s crazy how many stories I have been told that detoured in there, and amazing that such a small expanse can hold hostage so many memories. So many chances either left in line or with one of the watch people looking into bags. God knows what secrets those guards have seen to date. That would be a story, huh!
Their first date was in this hustle and bustle just after high school. None of them had joined campus yet. They were both fresh into life and looking for someone to love. Someone to die for. Their union, blessed by a mutual friend who thought they would be good together, was filled with sparks from the very beginning.
He tells me this story on the day before her birthday. Maybe he was reminiscing on the times they had together. Maybe he was thanking the universe for getting him out of it. He said it in passing, like it didn’t really matter that he still remembered her birthday. Like it was out of reflex. Something his brain had trained itself to remember. He suggested that it would be something if the story was posted then. But hey, I’m not here to grant wishes. Write to Santa for that.
Anyhow, he had gone out to a party with this girl whose name is not important since she will not be mentioned again as this story develops. While there, the Cupid impersonator told him the unnamed girl wasn’t good enough for him, and that she would shoot him in the right direction. “She hooked me up with two chics [girls, not chicken]. One who was in the States and the other who was in Nakuru,” he tells me. “Being a logical dude, I thought Nakuru was closer, so I opted for the one who was nearer…and yeah, that’s when it started, on August 7th”.
Their vibe was insane! They liked the same things, and disagreed on a few. Life had hit her fast which meant she was doing what any young adult would: Getting away. She was in Nakuru when he first made contact, and they had not yet met by August 14th when he asked her to be his girlfriend. “It was crazy! I had never seen this chic in person. I had only seen like one or two photos of her. We were vibing on like level 1,000. There were late night texts, I would wake up at 3am thinking of her and then I find her online and we would talk…so yeah, 2015, August 14th, we started dating officially.” It went on for a while, till she came back from Babylon.
They met in September at Pizza Inn-Moi Avenue (commonly Pizza Inn Archives). Originally from Karatina, she was new to the city so she was escorted by her friends. “Afterwards, we went to her brother’s place where we chilled and had a good time. I was an 18 year-old in the city, living the fast life.” Her brother lived in Ngara where he would go, spend time with his girlfriend then leave at around 9pm. You know the feeling when you are in town and you have just realized your phone has been pickpocketed? Not the initial shock when your brain is still trying to grasp at the flimsy strands of the loss…no. The one you get when you have already realized it, the shock has passed and now, right before you accept the situation and walk in to the first sim card replacement shop you see. That feeling of abandonment. Of defeat. Right before acceptance when all that goes on in your head is “What the fuck am I to do now?” That is the feeling he gets when he recalls he was walking around Ngara at 9pm with all the atrocities that this Nairobi has to offer. [I didn’t get it either]
Things happened. Things that he told me. Things that I will tell some of to you. But first, let’s talk names. There won’t be any. But if I was to pick and because my mind is still in a slump, the best I could have done is Jack, because Bauer is my childhood version of Shwarzenegger [consider this your weekly useless fact]. I hope you keep up.
She joined college, in Murang’a. Yes, people. This was not the Babylonian exile as you can tell. She came back after much less than the expected 70 years and they could now meet on their own terms albeit with a couple of hiccups. “We didn’t have a place to stay so we would depend on people’s houses, ask friends if they could steal a few moments of privacy behind their walls.” If walls could speak…
They were together one weekend in early November.
“As she was about to leave, she called this guy and she’s like, ‘can you pick me up at the stage?’ and I’m like…why are you asking someone to pick you at the stage? And she’s like, ‘you know it’s late, I’ll get there late and I need to be safe’ or something like that. So, I was like ‘okay, cool’. I thought it made sense since she was thinking of her safety.” But shit hit the fan.
She started ghosting him. No, parents. She did not die. Calm your areolas. It’s amazing how one thing can mean something totally different to different generations.
“You can tell when someone is not the same,” he says. In his honor, we will change the storytelling tactic just a little bit.
Okay. Picture a frat house, about 11 guys [he may have exaggerated, who knows?] This is where she hangs out when away from him.
He decides to put on Sherlock’s hat between Nov 25th and 27th in the ruse of surprising her. “The surprise was an investigation kind of thing.” He admitted. His friend who was dating someone else then [which is why he trusted him] stayed in this frat house too. “I had just turned 19. I trusted people still.”
He hides in the bathroom at the frat house, waiting for her. She arrives and starts hugging all 11 dudes, but they know there is more than just slippery walls, tainted floors and several pieces of unfinished soap in that bathroom so they do not hug her back. She asks why no arms are wrapping around her a couple of times until she sees his shoes and asks where he is. “She came to the bathroom, hugged me and we went outside to talk.”
Outside the frat house, she deletes some texts on her phone while he watches, probably from the corner of his eye. They go back in and “have some serious sex” after which she says she was going to her friend Washington’s place, about one or two floors above the frathouse. She leaves her phone.
“She had deleted texts from this other guy; George, but forgot about Washington’s chats [rookie mistake], so I took screenshots and sent them to my phone then went to sleep.”
She comes back at midnight, asking why he went through her phone. “I didn’t think that that was the issue at the time. She was cheating one me.” He cried. It was bad, I mean, it was still Friday, and he was one of those kids [I was one too] who received pocket money weekly, at the beginning of each one. Which meant he had no money to go back to Nairobi with, he could not ask her for money because they were just broken up and pride stood tall, and the frat dudes would definitely be no help. It was a long 24 hours, but he made it through. “It felt like a lifetime. I went back, did my exams, failed miserably and went into my whoring phase.”
She reached out in January and because affairs of the heart are a mystery to us all, they got together in the new semester. His parents gave him the rent for the whole semester which he, being the boy in love that he was, used it all up on her. The word he used was “squandered”.
Sometime afterwards, there was some bam-chicka-bow-wow and the diddy was done. She asked the question and he said yes. He suggested the emergency pill Postinor-2 (P-2) but she basically shrugged it off, in so many words. 2 weeks later, she hits him with a positive pregnancy test. He ditched classes completely and they stayed at his uncle’s place in Lang’ata while they figured shit out. He reached out to a nurse aunt who he thought was cool to get them meds from the hospital she worked at. She was definitely not cool.
Nurse aunt snitched to his mom who in return called him fuming at the nostrils. After she calmed down, she sent him 5 thousand bob which they used at a clinic near Thika Road Mall in May.
“We were okay for a while, until I started liking this other chic from school. When she found out, she lost it and we broke up. The chic I started liking is currently dating my uncle [story for another time] and I don’t know where I am going with this story. I am now dating an amazing girl and things are not bad. I mean they are bad right now but, isn’t that every relationship?” [I don’t know, you tell me]
As an afterthought, he says, “Oh, and don’t use original names. People will read this blog even in 50 years and I don’t want to be brought down.”
I mean, first of all, thank you for hoping people will still want to hear from me in that era, and secondly, this ain’t my first rodeo.
[Guess who’s back (back-back) back again (gain-gain). You should have sung that.
PSA: I am not receiving any more stories since I want to first finish the ones you guys paraded in my inbox with. I’m also thinking of adding Sunday as an additional posting day just till I’m done dishing the currently available stories. Wait for the link.
PS. I missed y’all. Kisses]
Please don’t send any more stories yet. Please. I appreciate you all so much.
by John Ouma
“There is in every village a torch – the teacher: and an extinguisher – the clergyman”
The Reproductive Healthcare Bill, 2019 that, as of the time of writing of this article, is at the third reading stage before the Senate, has triggered fresh conversation on sexuality, morality, abortion and the reality of life as it’s lived today in Kenya. This comes at a time when the country is witnessing a spike in cases of rape, teenage pregnancies and gender based violence.
In substance, the conversation has digressed from the ‘meat’ of the Bill; the reproductive challenges that women face, to the old position of ‘us against them’, to which the church is at the thick.
This argument endeavors to shed light on Kenya project operating as a theocracy, politics of morality and why the issue of teenage pregnancies is fundamentally a political problem.
Religion as a tool of governance: the story of Kenya state
Essentially, as political theorist Rajeev Bhargava notes, the state should be separated from religious institutions to check religious tyranny, oppression, hierarchy or sectarianism and to promote religious and non-religious freedom equalities and solidarity among citizens. When the state enters into an unchecked, intimate relationship with the church, (the church here refers to religious institutions) a theocracy develops; a system in which God or a deity is recognised as the supreme civil ruler. Kenya isn’t there yet. And I am not trying to say that a theocracy is especially bad.
But statements like “so and so has been chosen by God as president” in an election that is later proven to be shambolic, remind us of how a theocracy manifests itself. Where gender sensitive health policies, for example, are required, a state that operates as a theocracy will tend to vacillate, to brown-nose its relationship with the church.
Theocracy, if unchecked, can inspire, as history tells us, questionable decisions. When the administration of George W. Bush attacked Iraq in 2003, despite reservations by United Nations, Bush said God had told him to do so. Similarly, he prevented a medical research that was trying to look into safe abortion practice when he was Governor of Texas.
We all know how religious absolutism operated in Afghanistan under the Taliban where homosexuals were executed by being buried alive. We also know that God-fearing Syria is by far violent than, say, atheist Netherlands. And so recent statements coming from the church casting proponents of ‘safe’ abortion and comprehensive sexuality education as public enemies are worrying.
Why labelling abortionists as public enemies is dangerous
In his column in the Sunday Standard, June 28, 2020, David Oginde of Christ Is the Answer (CITAM) wrote, “Recently reported numbers of teen pregnancies across the country since the Covid-19 lockdown of schools are certainly beyond reality and are simply meant to set an obvious but sinister agenda…the proposed Comprehensive Sexuality Education and the Reproductive Healthcare Bill are poisoned chalice that we should never allow into our society…”
Statements from various religious authorities have used strong and sometimes misleading words in reference to Reproductive Healthcare Bill. Without examining the root cause to the problem, the church has adopted a bellicose attitude and tone in its sustained objection to the Bill. This position, many agree, is a potential catalyst of anarchy.
On July 1994, American reverend Paul Hill killed Dr John Britton and his bodyguard James Barret in the former’s clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Hill said he killed Britton to avoid future deaths of innocent babies.
Randull Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue – an American organization for intimidating abortion providers – is quoted saying, “when I, or people like me, are running this country, you’d (abortion providers) better flee, because we will find you, we will try you and, and we’ll execute you…”
Pro-life people argue that an embryo is a baby, killing it is therefore murder, and that’s that. A human embryo is an example of human life. Consequentialists on the other hand look at it differently: does the embryo suffer? Does it have a nervous system?
I am not here to argue for or against abortion. My point is that in a highly churched society like Kenya, the caustic tone adopted by the church on the matter of abortion is dangerous. Instead of interpreting the reality, the church is giving the matter an interpretation of its own. The church, like George Magoha of Ministry of Education, has not only cast doubt on the veracity of the teenage pregnancy figures, it has branded those calling for a practical solution, as, in the words of David Oginde, “hawks with less than positive intentions”.
A study conducted by Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA) concluded that stigmatization by religion drives young women to procure abortion, and that religion doesn’t play a significant role in youth sexuality other than influencing use and access to contraception. It also found out that parents/guardians often force their pregnant adolescents to procure abortion.
Facts about the state of a Kenyan teenager from a poor household paint a different picture; a picture that captures abortion as a pragmatic rather than a religious logic. An estimated 13, 000 Kenyan girls drop out of school annually as a result of pregnancies, and about 17 per cent of girls have had sex, under some form of force, before the age of 15. Of the 316, 560 cases of abortion procured in the country every year, almost 50 per cent involve women aged between 14 and 24. Another 120, 000 women and girls are hospitalized each year due to abortion-related complications, making unsafe abortion a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality in the country.
A similar research by Marie Stopes International indicate that 41 per cent of unintended pregnancies end up being aborted. 2, 600 women and girls die annually due to abortion or its related complications; an average of seven deaths every day. 64.8 per cent of girls from Korogocho slum interviewed in 2010 were Christians and 60 per cent were between the age of 18 and 22 year. The reality of life as it is lived in low-income areas where sexual abuse, extreme poverty and low levels of education expose women and girls to sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies and disease is increasingly not captured in the church’s approach to sexuality and abortion.
Women and girls procure abortion regardless of the position of the church or the faith they profess. In short, by restricting the conversation within the conservatism rim, religious censorship on abortion can be seen as a violation of freedom of conscience.
But even if these figures were exaggerated, and such research funded by ‘donors’ as the church wants us to believe, it is difficult to overlook the seriousness of abortion, teenage and/or unintended pregnancies. Consequently, a knee-jerk response that includes such things as teaching values in schools, as suggested by the church, is especially ineffective. You can teach children to abstain from sex, but you cannot claim control over their decision to whether or not indulge in it. It’s this type of decision that the Reproductive Healthcare Bill, sponsored by Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika seeks to strengthen.
Another argument that has gained traction in the recent times is the role politicians play in shaping morality. By virtue of their influence on the masses, politicians have framed a type of morality that thrives on verbal and sexual diatribes.
By placing a knife on moral convention, politicians have facilitated decay of societies
Sexual consciousness in this day and age of globalization has drastically arisen. Zeitgeist, ‘spirit of the times’ has inspired a secular understanding of sex. This, however, isn’t just a Kenyan problem; politicians world over cultivate and preserve their sway and public likability by trading sexual diatribe.
Self-styled Kenyan politician Paul Ongili alias Babu Owino is popular for his sexual remarks dating back to his days at the University of Nairobi. Late 2019, he published a controversial tweet that came out for violence against women, if stripped down to its bare bones. He wrote,
“Alice Wahome must respect Baba and president Uhuru or we will shave every part of her body that has hair. This is not a threat it’s a promise”
In the same thread, he detractively told off Nairobi City County Member of Parliament, Esther Passaris for construing his tweet (quoted above) within the obvious context. He wrote:
“I know you (Esther Passaris) are in that time of the month. So I will not engage hormones”
U.S President Donald J. Trump, is notorious for his belittling and offensive language against women. He made headlines in 2005 with his “grabbing women by the pussy” comment in a Hollywood show. Trump has been quoted widely in the past and present for his derogatory comments on women within and without his circle. In 2016, at the run up to presidential elections, he wrote on twitter, in reference to journalist Megyn Kelly, then a news anchor at Fox News;
“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever”
In 2016, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, then the major of Davao City, was quoted saying, with reference to a rape incident that involved an Australian missionary during a prison riot;
“But she was so beautiful, the major (him) should have been first. What a waste”
Mr Duterte who enjoys in-fine-feather public likability, has a deep history of vulgar outburst and use of crass and defaming language on women.
Sex, as it has been said, is a political weapon that can be employed to perpetuate consensual domination. At the backdrop of technological revolution, with advent of smart phones and fast-speed internet, people have become more sexually imaginative and credulous without paying much attention to the dynamics of the world in which and with which they exist.
By knowing what resonates with their audience, politicians use public platforms to influence national discourse in a type of language with a dearth of morality.
Why comprehensive sex education is critical
‘Safe’ abortions, as KHRC notes, are economically out of reach for most of the victims of sexual violence, this leaves them with no option but to go for unsafe abortions. Also, reproductive health facilities are not friendly to sexually active adolescents; a major factor that has contributed to limited knowledge on safe sex practice among adolescents. Studies also show that young and poorly educated women and girls are more likely to procure abortion compared to their rich and educated peers.
To reduce cases of teen pregnancies, comprehensive sex education is clearly needed, because the truth is, teenagers, as a result of ‘spirit of the times’ – shaped by, among other things, pop music – indulge in sex at a young age. Some of the most effective ways of helping adolescents are: one, empowering them with information about their sexuality. This will go a long way in raising their consciousness with regard to their rights.
The position of the church that the figures have purposefully be blown out of proportion is neither here nor there. At any rate, sexual assault cases aren’t matters to be judged based on how many happen in truth. Even a single case is enough to prompt action. Also, there’s need to financially empower households in low-income neighborhoods where economic difficulties force women and girls to indulge in sexual activities to make ends meet.
Two, law enforcement agencies should be restructured to expedite dispensation of justice where cases of defilement, rape, and sexual assault are involved. Some religions are known to insist that such cases be solved out of court at the expense of justice. To achieve these, the state must separate its self from the church.
John Ouma is a journalism student and a coming writer