S – Sometimes I think
H – However
Time seems to keep losing track of me, but what is important is that we’re here, and we’re done. As promised, here is the second stort story that I wrote early this year.
The Boy and His Ball
The fear was still present in her chest. Fear that had crippled the whole world in different magnitudes. Nancy still felt it, despite having watched the news last night and this morning. The Minister of Health had stated clearly that the nation was free of the disease. We had won. Triumphed over the coughing and chest pains and death. Oh the deaths. Nancy could not count how many people had been lost. How many coughed their last with the disease that crept in overnight.
She walked up the road, her eyes set on that last turn. She had worked at Mater Hospital for four years now, two of which were crippled with the COVID-19 pandemic. That is over now. It seemed unreal. When the Minister gave his statement last night, she could not believe it. When she heard the ululations out in the streets, of people celebrating this new freedom, her heart refused to believe it. She wanted to get to the hospital first. If it was truly over, there were still a lot of things to do before everyone was completely free.
“Nurse!” a child called to her from the street. “Nurse, tumepona [we are healed]” she smiled under her mask.
Masks had become her life. Other than being required to wear them at work, the whole world wore them outside. Her nose only saw the world when she was alone, at home. She remembered the first few weeks when the pandemic hit. How people fought to not wear them. How they tried to seek alternatives.
Maybe if I cover my mouth when I talk to people? Patients would ask.
What if I don’t go near people?
I am allergic to the fabric used to make masks. Can I get a letter to not wear them?
There were all kinds of excuses. Everyone was scared of the world being something they did not understand. Change is hardly ever welcome.
Nancy reached the last turn to the hospital entrance. There was no traffic today. The world decided to take a rest. All of Nairobi was inside, when they should be out celebrating. The world was healed. There were no more masks. She smiled under hers. She had put it on as a reflex action. Her body was so used to wearing a mask that despite knowing she did not need it anymore, she still put it on when she left her house.
She nodded to the gateman like she did each time she came in for a shift and headed towards the back. The nurses’ entrance was to the left. Jackline always joked that the people who worked the most deserved a special entrance, which is why only the nurses used the back door. Doctors were normal people, they used the main entrance. The doors used by patients and janitors and visitors. Nancy knew it was because the doctors liked to be seen as they walked in. It gave them a sense of purpose. Fed their egos.
At her locker, she found a note.
THANK YOU FOR HOLDING THE HOSPITAL DURING THESE TRYING TIMES.
“They couldn’t even personalize the notes, huh?” she heard Jackline say. Nancy turned to see her gap toothed friend smiling in that way that made her patients feel special.
“Jackline, at least it is appreciative,” she said.
“Bah!” spat Jackline. “They should have at least put your name in it. No one worked as hard as you the last two years.”
“Maybe the doctors,” she tried to counter.
“No doctor could come close. You knew more of the patients here than all the doctors combined! Remember when Doc Muchiri couldn’t even remember that patient’s name until you helped him out? Makes me wonder how they even know which meds to administer. Maybe you should wear that white coat instead of the arrogant prick!”
“Okay, too far. Anyway, Mother Mary is looking for you.”
Nancy did not know why the administrative nurse would be looking for her. There were usually two reasons anyone was called to Mother Mary’s office. To get a pay cut or fired. She could not afford any of the two. There was nowhere to get a job right after a crippling pandemic.
“Good luck,” Jackline called to her. “I hope it’s a pay cut.”
She held her heart in her hand as she walked to the administration office. Standing in front of the door, she took three deep breaths before she knocked on it. A familiar voice called to let her in.
She looked at Doc Michael sitting comfortably on Mother Mary’s seat. He had a smug smile on his face. Nancy tried desperately to hide the fear in her eyes. She could not understand why Michael had called her into the administration office. She left the door open, just in case he had any ideas. Before she could take a seat, he spoke.
“Shut the door first.”
“I don’t think it would be appropriate.”
“Nan, just close the door. I want to talk to you.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and sat smugly. She was not going to allow herself in a compromising situation. The other nurses had rambling mouths.
“I miss you, Nan,” Michael began.
“Is that why I am here? Am I being fired for having a fling with a doctor?”
“It wasn’t just a fling, was it?” he asked.
Nancy looked up at him. His face showed remorse, but you could never be too sure. Michael, Doc Michael, had a reputation with the nurses. He was the playboy at Mater Hospital. The pandemic may have reduced the amount of contact he had with others, but everything was going back to normal. He, too, would be back to his meandering ways.
“Why am I here?” she asked.
“Mother Mary asked me to speak with you.”
Nancy wondered why the administrative head would ask a general practitioner to speak to a nurse.
“I know you’re asking yourself why she would ask me to talk to you.”
“No I wasn’t,” she retorted.
“Nan, I know you better than you can imagine.”
She remained silent. Was he waiting for a response? If so, he was in for a rude shock.
Michael swung in his seat. Why was she being so difficult? “You can get the funds to further your studies. Mother Mary said that since you have been instrumental during the pandemic, the hospital can find some money to pay for your higher education.”
She raised her eyes to meet him for the first time since she walked in the office. She searched them, trying to figure out if this was just another scheme of his. She could see no angle. He was telling the truth. She could finally be a registered nurse like the others working at the hospital. Nancy did not feel the tears running down her face until Michael touched her face with a handkerchief.
Back at the nurses’ station, Nancy was still crying when Jackline came back in. She basically lived in the station, escaping her duties so someone else would be assigned to them.
“Okay, you need to take that mask off once in a while,” Jackline said as she approached her. She was removing the mask from Nancy’s left ear when she noticed the tears. “Oh, baby. Were you fired?”
Nancy shook her head.
“Well, then a paycheck isn’t that important anyway. Come on, there is a party that the other nurses have put together at the cafeteria. There are snacks. We can carry some home. Don’t worry about the money.”
“They’re paying for everything, Jack”
“Yes,” Jackline said impatiently. “All the snacks are paid for. Now come on…”
Nancy held her friend’s arm. “For school! The hospital is paying for me to go back to school, Jack. I can’t believe it.”
Jackline’s face lit up as she smiled at her friend. “See. I told you all your hard work the last two years would pay off.”
“No you didn’t”
“Honey, yes I did. You just never heard me. Now come. The pandemic is over, you can afford school and I need to get to those free snacks so I can stuff some in my bra for later.” She pushed her friend out the door.
Nancy allowed herself to move, with Jackline’s hand on the small of her back. As she walked out into the back parking lot, she noticed a boy playing. He was about 6 years old. He didn’t have a mask on.
The fear was still present in her chest. Fear that had crippled the whole world in different magnitudes. Nancy still felt it, despite having watched the news last night and this morning. She looked at the boy’s unmasked face as he bounced a small ball on the tarmac. Jackline had already started for the cafeteria.
As she watched the boy’s face, she recognized an innocence that lacked in hers. He was certain that everything was alright now. With the pandemic being over, he was free. He could play without restrictions. He could bounce his ball on a road that was frequented by vehicles. Vehicles driven by doctors who had spent entire shifts sneaking off for a sip of brandy. Vehicles like Doc Michael’s BMW that was coming down the tarmac at speeds meant for safari rallies.
Without thinking, Nancy flung herself towards the boy and his ball. Her arms were spread forward, pushing him out of the way but leaving her right in the path of Doc Michael’s BMW. By the time the bumper got to her, she was already on the tarmac. She could taste the burn of the tires. The fear remained in her chest.
Doc Michael was watching Nancy the whole time. He had been looking for her in the cafeteria before someone mentioned that she may have left for the back entrance. Hurriedly, he got into his BMW and rushed to get to her. He had to tell her he still loved her. That the time they spent together meant more that he could put into words. That he was proud of all the work she had done.
He had seen her on the pavement right outside the nurses’ station. Her eyes were puffy. Had she been crying? Who would make her cry? He had a few things his fists could say to such a person.
Then, out of nowhere, she jumped in front of his car.
Disclaimer; This post may be all over the place. It was written in a whole lot of places.
There are a lot of things that cross your mind when you stand by the graveside of someone you knew. It’s even weird just talking about them in the past tense, simply because the last time their lungs filled with air was yesterday, a few minutes ago, last week, last year. They’re gone, and there is literally nothing you can do about it. You know, because if there was, you would do it in a heartbeat. If the universe came up with a way to bring back people we held dear. If Thanatos gave the option to have them back, who’s to say they would still be their same selves?
But you’re there, the earth is raw and you can still spot an earthworm or two in the pile of sand next to the rectangle. You hold yourself up because everyone else is being so strong and you also have to. Strength, at this point, sounds foreign. Strength is something nonexistent in your diction. You stop yourself every few hours to ask how you have held on when everything feels like it is crumbling. Nothing matters. The sun is not too hot, the air not too humid, clouds not too grey. You can withstand anything at this point because something totally different has taken over your shell and all you’re doing is holding on to a thread as events unfold.
I saw a lot of my people in this shell. People so strong, yet so broken by the matriarch’s passing that they cease to exist in the pain. I watched them pull themselves out to delegate and move locations and eat. I saw them crack jokes and laugh in an empty-shelly way that it gets you thinking.
You know when you have a bad couple of days, and it seems nothing is ever going to go right EVER? When a few things go awry and you deal with each problem as it comes. Then a couple more things go wrong and you start wishing, start cursing, blaming everything and every cat that crosses your path. I’m not superstitious, I’m just a little stitious, and when a client cancels a call, you get a TON of corrections on work you have done before without notes, your toenail gets caught on the carpet, you have a constant nagging headache and a black cat starts following you around when you go out to buy bread only to find they don’t have brown bread, you’re going to blame the white bread you left at the shop. Or the black cat. Your pick.
I recently had a ‘when it rains it pours’ couple of days, and actually got rained on at the worst possible time. The human body, as I came to know, can do whatever it is the mind tells it to do. Maybe I am sharing too much and a lady never tells, but I have rarely been known to follow rules. I did an entire hour and a half journey with a full bladder, and the journey back with the urine knocking ever not so subtly. My mind and bladder connected and kept each other dry, even as rain dripped all over me. Yup, literally, on the worst possible time, I got drenched just when my body needed to drench a toilet.
Okay, back to more socially acceptable topics. Why is death such a hush-hush topic? Why is it that, when my great-grandma passed, there was this silent bow done in my face, as if the curtains were drawn? The woman was 99 (according to the books. Everyone kept saying she must have been older] Why was it all sorrys and no aren’t you glad to have met her? Sat with her? Watched her smile and ask myself how she bit into apples with that huge gap in her front two?
I have been writing this thing for months now, and I don’t even have the words to make it into a complete post. Am I finished as a writer? Have my words faded and I, now, an empty vessel, remain here to wallow in the emptiness of 12:14 am, with no one to call and have and be? Is this my existential crisis, and how many am I allowed before I have to say I have nothing left?
How this thing will morph into a single thought, I have no idea. I just know I need to write again, and doing it in parts is what is working now, so…
Some strange things happened as I stood by that graveside. The rain seemed to wait for just the right moment [unlike when I actually needed to be dry]. It was somber, but there was this feeling in the air, that she was there, watching, or maybe I have seen too many movies and need some reality.
They poured battery acid on her. My Kisii County people are known to find the dead quite delish, so now, when your loved one passes, you have to make sure they are really gone. The acid comes after she is lowered to the ground, to minimize any nightmares that may creep into the night. Without it, the matriarch would be excavated in the cover of darkness, right about the time I am writing this: 12:20 am. The matriarch would be eaten, and honestly, I wonder what a woman as strong as her would taste like.
Would her flesh be tender, to disregard the years she has toiled, or would it match it, blow for blow. She didn’t live quietly, that one. They kept saying she “loved life”. She was a drunk, that’s for sure, but she was a drunk who was in bed by 7 pm [unlike a lot of you]. A responsible drunk, have you heard of such a thing? Her thing was busaa, made with leftover ugali because there was frugality in her generosity. Nothing was wasted with the woman.
As I stretched my cup of busaa to the hot water guy [which, did you know busaa was topped off by hot water?] I realized what legacies this woman left behind. A mother to 9, and 8 boys, even her teeth feared her and had to stay apart. It is because she insisted, with tooth and cane [ha-ha] that her children must go to school, that I am telling stories through my fingers. Poseidon knows I couldn’t have managed to do word of mouth.
As the flour settled in my cup, and I had to look for a stick to stir [the situation called to twigs, not spoons] I listened to the stories of her thrashing my grandma and her siblings if they did not want to go to school. A woman after my own heart, even before she knew me. She needed the cane, especially with 8 boys. That’s what they said.
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.
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
I love the rain
How the drops sound on iron sheets
How my body feels in my sheets
I love the smell of the first drops hitting the soil
And the sound of roaring thunder like it hits foil
And as it grows colder outside
My heart fills and bursts like riverbeds
I used to believe in love.
In two hearts becoming one
To hold and to have
I used to believe in together as one
I use past tense because my reality took a shaking
I was robbed of what I held dear
I stopped believing
My heart filled with fear
I am afraid
To hurt so bad once more
To touch pain with my fingertips
To shake again to my core
I used to believe in love
But the makings of today’s love is deceit
Lies to honest hearts and knives to trusting backs
I still believe in love.
Kwe was living the life he left the vastly populated lands of Nyang’oma Kogelo, a village in the former Karemo Division for.
He was now in the sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean, never in one area for more than 2 weeks. He met lots of white women. “Elderly white women”, he corrects himself with a smile. He had left the poverty of Nyang’oma behind and now he was posh and classy and sophisticated. He smiles as he reminsces.
Kwe is the typical Luo man, as I am told there is a typical every tribe man. Kalenjins are tall and almost malnourished-looking, Kiuks are usually light-skinned and pot-bellied, Luhyas almost always have strong jaws and Luo men are, typically, the ideal TDH. Kwe is extremely TDH.
I was walking through the grounds when I removed my phone from my backpack to look at my face. (Don’t judge me, we all do it). I wiped the sweat off my face for the second time when he came to me. Not Kwe, the guy who took me to Kwe. Dena.
“Color iko sawa?” He asks with one of those sheepish toothy smiles.
I look at his striped suit and try to keep myself from judging. Maybe he also thinks my sweatshirt is a bit too big for me, but that is what I was comfortable in, so I let the striped suit man escape with his fashion mishap.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hello. I am Dena. I stay here.” He says with a grin, the subtext to his statement being..’as if I have a choice’.
I introduce myself to Dena, whose name I wrongly think should simply be Denno like normal Dennises and who immediately thinks I am a world class journalist because I have a notebook and a Multimedia University pen in my left hand.
He goes on and on and on about a “friend who is around and whose story is news”. I get intrigued and ask if I can see this newsworthy friend, hoping to heaven and hell that it is not a disease thing or blood related because that would without a doubt make my skin cringe. I tell him this and he goes “No, you’ll like his story. I’m in it so I know it’s good”.
Dena took me to Kwe. At first glance, in his loose fitting pants and shirt, he is the epitome of man. Tall, “6 foot 7” he had said when I masked my embarrassment and asked him.
He suggested we sit on some rocks by the side and I welcomed the idea. Looking up at the building he was had started cramping the back of my neck. He was the perfect shade of dark. Not black, not brown. A toned kind of dark chocolate that brings the universe to it’s knees. His face was okay-looking. I don’t think I noticed because I spent the whole time lost in his eyes. He had so much pain in those windows to his soul that my heart broke for him.
“Hi, Mirriam, you said?” He confirms from me.
“Yes” I whisper.
“I’m Kwe.” He waits as I struggle with the spelling. He chuckles when I put in a Q. “Kay, Daboliu, iiiii,” He spells it out for me.
He then goes on to give me the full introduction. He is from Nyang’oma Kogelo, a village in Siaya. I tell him I studied in Ng’iya Girls High. They told us in school to always find ways to connect with people you talk to. He seems to like that. His sister went to Ng’iya Primary School. He loves his sister. I see it in the way he speaks about her. He doesn’t know where she could be today, or what she could be doing. Just that 7 years ago she had a baby boy.
“This ka-jamaa,” he places a broad strong arm on Dena, “He started it all”. Dena smiles. Dena is also his real second name. He showed me his charge sheet, because they are not allowed any personal effects.
“What happened?” I ask, already pressing the record button on my phone.
“We had just finished form four,” Dena starts. “Two dashing young men with our whole worlds ahead of us,” I look at them both. Still dashing.
“Dena proposed we go to Coasto, find some jobs, make some money then join uni after a year. It seemed like a great idea.” TDH adds in. He has a deep enticing voice.
They told their parents the plan, and after a month and a few breakings of tin banks, the two brothers from different mothers were in a Coasto-bound bus. They had so many plans. They would definitely start small, “kazi ndogo ndogo as we build our way up the chain,” he explains.
Coasto was exactly as they imagined and more. They spent their days hanging out by the beach and their nights working at Hypnotica, a club, I gathered, as waiters. They were doing alright considering the circumstances. Payment of the double room they shared was always expected on the 5th but they always paid on the 1st.
“We never took any chances with the rent money” Dena adds, trying to find significance in the story.
My leg starts cramping but I can’t tell this demigod that I can’t perform simple tasks like sitting on this rock because how then will he be able to tell me about ‘Coasto‘? I decide to suffer through the pain.
“I met Sheila in Coasto“, I feel he is misusing the word since he senses it bothers me. “I never thought much of it. We met when I had started a bodaboda gig. She wanted transportation and I could provide it. Numbers were exchanged and I became her official Mombasa caddy.”
Sheila was one of the elderly white women. The kind that escape winter to come pretend to enjoy sunburn in the scorching Coasto sun.
Kwe tells me how she kept asking him to “hang” with her at the beach, and once he agreed to that due to her constant pestering, she started inviting him to her hotel. First for coffee. He doesn’t drink coffee so he had refused. He wished he hadn’t. His refusal made her angry for some time. She even stopped calling him to ferry her to the beach. One month, two weeks and 5 days. He had counted. One month, two weeks and five days and she had not called. He was always by his phone for when Shay would call. She had insisted on being called Shay.
On the 6th day on the 7th week, they bumped into each other. It was partially cloudy and the tide was low. His shirt had been draped over his shoulders, unbuttoned. She had on a yellow bikini with white polka dots. Kwe says she looked 30. And really pretty. It must have been the heat.
He recalls taking her to Hypnotica. She paid the bills. He then “gave her a push to her hotel”. She suggested he go up for a night cap. Kwe had never had a night cap. He thought it was a hat worn in bed, “like a marvin” he explains.
He found himself falling for her. Hard. He developed feelings he had never experienced for any lass from the robust countryside of Siaya. She moved him and Dena into an apartment complex as big as the lake. She changed his wardrobe, furnished the apartment and even paid their bills. Dena was along for the ride and they all knew it. It was Kwe that she wanted and he is paying the price to date.
I shift on my rock. By butt is more numb than gums at a dentist’s, and I should know, I’ve played the dentist game almost all my life. Kwe sees my discomfort and stands, saying that we could stroll around the grounds. I see Dena eyeing the Dasanis we had come with and I excuse myself to go get them some water. They must have never seen Dasani since they came in here.
“August of 2010 was when she asked if I would like to go with her the states. I was young. And stupidly in love with a 55 year-old” he continues after a sip of water. I think he likes how it tastes because he smiles at the bottle. “I called my parents and told them I had been given a sponsorship to go study at a University in the states. The United States University.”
“Is there anything like…”
“Don’t judge me,” he says with a laugh. “I did not know any universities there, and if I didn’t, how could my parents know of any? So I lied with the first thing I could. By now Shay was living in the apartment with me. She got us two tickets. Said that Dena would come after a month,” he sighs. “I wish I had broken it off before I packed that suitcase. She even got me a suitcase! Can you imagine that?” He asks me. I can. His first suitcase! He was so excited to put his clothes in it. Made sure he packed his mother’s handkerchief first. For good luck, he says.
Events at the airport are hazy for him. Shay had given him a bag to carry. He had been stopped by security for a patdown, taken to a room that smelled of freshly coated paint. He remembers he touched the wall just to ensure his nose wasn’t playing tricks on him. The tip of his index finger was still a pale yellow when Shay’s bag was brought in by a man who “looked important”. He had asked to see Shay but they didn’t let him. Nobody believed the bag was not his. His mother’s handkerchief was in it, covering a white powder in polythene paper that he had never seen before.
“After that, I don’t remember much. They put me in cells, I was taken to court either once or eight times. I only remember those gates closing,” he points at the entrance to the prisons. “My life has changed so much. I have no contact with my family. Dena was brought here two years later, I couldn’t recognize him. He was the one who knew me. Came up to me one time on the breakfast line and was like ‘Hey bro, been a minute huh?’ and we became brothers again”
I ask him about Sheila. If he could see her again.
“I don’t know. But I forgave her. I can’t live in the past anymore. I have been taught design here, they bring us lessons and I found I was really good. I want to be done with my sentence and go back home. I hear my sister has a 7 year-old son. I’d like to see my nephew. To teach him to not be swayed by the ways of the world.”
Kwe suspects she put the cocaine in his bag when she realized she could not board with it. He looks at the perimeter wall as he tells me how much he had lost trust in people when he first got to prison. It was his first heartbreak. I can’t imagine him broken hearted. He lost faith in people, and in himself. Life was grim. He has tried to take his life, three times. But you can’t hang sheets by the cell’s frail light bulb because it comes loose and there is no time that he can take sheets out under a tree. He managed to accept his fate. His mistakes. He says he learnt a lot about “wazungu wa Coasto“.
There are bad people out there, mixed with the good ones and with the faces of humans. But deep inside, they will take the first chance they get to screw you over just to save themselves. Be wary.