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.
Someone told me that my karma is my memory.
I didn’t agree. Obviously.
What could that even mean? I’ve heard karma is a bitch, so were they saying that my memory is a bitch?
And what kind of bitch? The cute poodle kind or the kind that is spoken to some and leads to palms covering chapped separated lips that know too much lipstick right after the sudden breath of air that seems to originate from somewhere in the back of the throat and ends immediately after?
Was it that my memory is the kind of karma that is commonly referred to as the “B” word?
I let it go. Really. It didn’t even bother me. Not one bit. Not at all.
At least that is what I told myself until I met Mercy and I became a philosopher in my own accord but without the crazy Einstein hair or lab coat and the theory was tested.
I was slaving hard for the man, as I usually do on my attachment where I drag myself to every single weekday morning with eyes as low as the hedgehogs to the earth, when I decided to go get a pack of fries because the stomach knows no hustle.
I had just emailed the day’s story to my supervisor and I had that feeling you get when you use words like ‘amongst’ and ‘whomsoever’ in an essay. Nothing could make the day any better than some fries seasoned with a little bit of salt and made sensational in some dark vinegar.
So I get to the fries place, the mama looks at me and smiles.
She already knows what I want and even before I instinctively say “Ya kawaida”, she is decorating my soon to be plate with delicacies beyond measure and places the kingly meal of chopped potatoes before me.
Some strange woman is now staring at me, probably because she is jealous she had not received the princely greetings I had received from the fries mama.
She gives me another look, and the 5 year-old by her side starts asking for fries. She looks back at me.
My fries? I think not Ms Jealous Lady.
This one must be bonkers. Her head must be screwed on using a couple shank nails.
She doesn’t know that you never come between a Mirriam and her fries.
I look at the kid who has eyes that are so big they play at making him both adorable and a human ostrich. One of the voices now goes… “So now you won’t give him fries? Reaaa….lllly?”
(PS. This voice sounds like Mr Hart)
I stay adamant
She smiles at me. It is a gorgeous smile. One of those infectious ones that has you involuntarily stretching the edges of your lips into an exaggerated curve and has you feeling like a hornbill.
But I don’t smile much, so my curve immediately goes back to default and look down at the heap of happiness on my steaming plate.
Somehow, I feel her still looking at me. Like her eyeballs are slowly dredging two narrow shallow holes at the top of my head. It was disturbing. Almost creepy.
My memory is truly that bitch, always sharpening her nails to dig them into my brain when I really need the use of it.
Maybe she wants to make those two holes by her heat vision and was only looking for the spot to mark X on my humongous mess of a head.
I look up.
We stare at each other as if we are in those Western movies as the cowboys in the hats with the guns and our hands are twitching at our sides to pull so as to become the most eligible bachelorettes in the drought stricken land.
We are at a Western stalemate.
She smiles at me again.
“Mambo mrembo” she coos.
Her voice is smooth and raspy.
An absurd combo if you ask me. It reminds me of the feeling on the buttock when sliding down a hill side on a cardboard box just after the rain had soaked the ground.
“Poa,” I reply before stuffing my already full mouth with more fries.
I look at her closely now.
She seems familiar. But isn’t that what we all see when someone greets us as if we are long lost relatives?
She has one of those faces that looks eerily similar to either one of your childhood playmates or a self proclaimed aunt. Her complexion is not dark enough so she can’t be from my father’s side and I know almost all my relatives from mom’s side.
I have seen this woman before. At least my mind thinks.
She could be the supermarket teller that once suspected me of stealing from the establishment even after I had insisted that she was mistaken. That wretched witch who on the 4th of August, 2012, had pried my bag open to pour its contents to the ground only to find that I only had my belongings in there, but who cares anymore?
Now I am pissed because my fries are going cold and I am not able to enjoy them since i am obsessed with the idea of knowing who this Mambo-Mrembo woman is.
Asking her might sound weird. I can’t even formulate the words in my mouth.
Who the hell are you and what sin did you commit to get such an amazing smile?
“Jana ulinyeshewa?” She purrs.
Now her voice is smooth.
Who in Potter’s name is this? She has gone from crunchy peanut butter to sweet, sweet plum jam.
But that’s not even important.
How did she know that I was drenched by the heavens yesterday? My appetite eludes me.
That’s when I remember.
“Your karma is your memory, Mirrabelle”
I now agree.
It comes as both a blessing and a curse. Like a right side on the wrong bed.
The good part is that I recall a lot of things, usually irrelevant information that I need to have forgotten or details as dark as charcoal painted fingers, or as this generation’s souls.
The other part is this: simple things like people’s names and sometimes even faces escape me.
Sometimes, when someone tells me their name, I have to sing it like I used to sing the items I was sent to the shop when I was 6 just so I might have a pea-sized chance to remember it the next time.
Mercy looks at me again. By now I am used to her eyes on me.
I stare back and try to picture her at court where I was yesterday, at the same fries mama’s place, though I did not come by here and at the offices where I am on attachment.
I can’t place her.
“Naitwa Mercy” she coos again.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.
5 times seems enough.
“Mirriam” I say.
I am bored with my fries for now. Can’t have them when Mercy’s little one has dipped his tiny dirt-tipped fingernails in them when he thought I was not looking.
I get up, say goodbye to Mercy and her little tyrranical pirate thief and get back to slaving for the man, or woman in my case. But I couldn’t shake it until I walked past a cobbler in town and a makeshift beauty parlor and a restaurant and a woman who has been selling dresses since time immemorial, literally, when I see her and remember the times I used to get dresses from Mercy at a different stall across town.
Remember when boys were the most disgusting beings?
When we could not stand the sight of them in their skinny hairless legs clad in school uniform shorts and their torn shoes due to too much football in the field where we should have been skipping rope.
When they were already dusty by 10.00 am while our previous night pressed dresses were immaculate till the last bell rang and we could escape to the safety of our homes where the perfect boys, our fathers and brothers were.
If your brothers were bullies like the boys at school, then I am sorry for you, but I’m sure the love for them was there still, or has grown over time, and they were or are always a welcome sight compared to the rugged,dusty-sometimes-even-muddy rascals that would pinch us or hit us and run faster than us or step on our thoroughly brushed bata toughees or stole our erasers and pencils or put mirrors under our lockers to peek at our P.E shorts, or lack there of or blumers/bloomers(I never learnt to spell this)
I disliked boys when I was younger.
Not that I am much older now, numbers don’t count, but I recall when I used to huddle in a group of my then besties and talk about the previous night’s episodes of Camila or Storm Over Paradise(Tormenta En El Paraiso) or Cuandos Seas Mia and recount how Maria told Alejandro she didn’t want him anymore even though we knew in our hearts of how much her heart cried out for him or of the never-going-away-ex (whom we loathed together but I secretly always liked in secret), usually called something evil like Barbara Serano Sulbaran or Carlota Espinoza De Los Monteros.
(PS. I have a weird habit of remembering things I should really have forgotten)
(PS b. Barbara always said all her names out loud and Carlorta always wore purple)
In the midst of this conversation, (and girls you have to please forgive me for spilling some of our secrets to the unsuspecting batch of the world) we would sneak in a comment or two about how James is stupid or George has not shaved his head in ages or how Steve’s shorts have been dirty since assembly time.
This post is a trip down memory lane.
I miss those days.
I was carefree and none of my friends cried for anything else other than falling down in public and grazing a knee or being caned by the teacher for a missed mark.
Back then, pain was relevant for not more than a minute and life moved on immediately after. We were happy and I never thought I should have taken a psychology degree because of my own issues piled with those of people I care about.
When our parents told us not to fall in love, that we were still young and we only needed to listen to our teachers and not all these late adolescent little feelings, we thought they did not know what they were saying.
We thought it was all banter.
And we thought we knew better.
Then we fell in love. And we loved with all our hearts. For a time, we were happy. We had found love and it was going to last us a lifetime.
Then our hearts broke. They left, or cheated or lied or did something that we never imagined someone we loved could ever do to us. And now, I see a generation that is broken, and heartless. A people that has been hurt so bad because we did not heed the advice of those that lived before us.
Our hearts have been broken and our minds corrupted so much so that we no longer believe in love. You see 20 year-olds that now only know pain from others and have also chosen to inflict an equal, if not a larger helping of the hurt they felt. What will happen to these hearts after 5 years of living like this, when society then expects us to find someone special to spend life with?
We have been corrupted. We are lying to ourselves that it is better to feel nothing than to feel at all. We have changed our wardrobes to darker colors and our childhood friends who saw us before and loved us can barely recognize us.
Our faces and hearts are no longer lit up. We have transformed the minor and innocent dislike we had for others back then and made it into something vile and lethal and I hate it.
I hate what we have become.
And I get it.
A broken heart will change you.
But isn’t it supposed to make you stronger? Better? It shouldn’t destroy who we were, but make us even greater versions of our previous selves. “Happy Nancy” should be “over-joyous Nancy”. “Funny Jack” into “Jack-hilarious”
Let’s not destroy ourselves because someone else hurt us. Trying to justify our hurting someone’s beautiful soul because of someone else’s mistakes towards us should stop.
The words of our parents to not poison our hearts with young love are already lost, but with effort, we can make a generation that can overcome pain and suffering to be tall glasses of very refreshing water.
I have stage fright.
It’s crazy, I know.
I converse pretty well with people one-on-one especially with those I am comfortable around.
Averagely well with people I don’t know. Sometimes, though, I get back to my default settings and just stare at my phone even when there is nothing to look at. I have also been told that this is a bad habit but hey…a leopard can’t change right? Anyway, put me before the same people I am able to talk to, mixed a little bit with people I don’t know, and well, let’s just say all hell breaks loose.
I get sweaty palms.
My throat dries up.
My vision gets blurry(though I think this was my short-sightedness playing tricks on me).
My mouth dries up.
I even get these tiny violent trembles that I think other people can actually notice.
My stomach gets full, and tightens.
I make a mini “fist” with my toes, because my palms are already sweaty enough I feel like a fist could slide right through
And oh does my mind race. Sometimes I end up forgetting what brought me to stand before all those people.
I start thinking other people’s thoughts.
What is he thinking?
Is she looking at my feet?
Maybe he sees me sweating.
Does she know I’m staring right at her?
Are those crumbs on her face?
Is he always this pretty?
And to be honest, I’ve been told everything on how to deal with it.
Picture people naked: But how? I don’t think my imagination is that vivid to enable me to put everyone’s nudity in my head.
Plus, isn’t that a little perverted? Why should I imagine a whole bunch of people, some of who I think are my friends, at least at times, naked? Why should I put myself through the torture of seeing things that I know my mind cannot unsee? It has also proven to be kind of impossible. To picture people naked. You can have a vague idea, yes, but completely naked? Really?
How many people must you have seen naked to be able to picture others, at a moment’s notice? There must be an average amount of nudity that one has to have gone through to corrupt minds to that extent and I think my number is still quite manageable.
So… No. I don’t picture people naked.
Assume you are alone in the room: But have you ever been in front of a group of people who expect you to say something to them?
The sets of eyes that are fixated on you, on how you are dressed, on whether you forgot to rub lotion on your feet, on how much your hands are trembling or if your stomach is showing through your shirt. It’s insane!
There is no way in hell that you can simply “assume” that you are alone.
But, say you do. Say you manage to trick your subconscious into believing that you are indeed alone. Then what? You become the freak that is speaking to people who are not there. The freak that is talking to herself or himself while actually talking to other people. Because to trick your mind into believing it then you really need to see it. So you will be standing there, “alone”, giving a speech to who? No one? That’s even more absurd than Sheldon Cooper himself.
There are people who don’t get me. People who find it super easy to be who they are infront of others. And that’s alright. Sometimes I get jelous of such people. I long for a time that I can walk up a podium without my heart beating through my ears and I am envious of those who do it without being unnerved, but that hit a minor pause last week.
Here’s what happened.
I was at a friend’s house, and he had some people over. He is a poet so naturally some of his friends are into arts. They started reading out some of their pieces and singing and it was fun. I was actually having a good time. They asked me to do some and I said I couldn’t. The friend, the one whose house I was at, defended me and said I would not showcase anything if I didn’t want to, and we left it at that.
Last week, at that same house, with those same people who are supposed to be open minded and understanding, I heard someone say to her friend that I didn’t stand to share with them because I’m a snob, or a bitch, or both. A snobbish bitch. I almost got angry. But at what cost? It’s not like I would have gone up to talk to her since she had already made up her mind of how much bitchness I had.
A snob percent apparently.
So I smiled and walked away. It wasn’t worth it. PS: I am not going there again when she is there and I hope that in a few years I will have blown up and she will read this post and know I was talking about her, and she will remember to not dislike others for who they are but accept them and teach them what she feels she knows and she will then be beautiful both inside and out.
I hated being talked about by someone who didn’t really know who I was. By someone who only judged me using one single encounter. By someone who did not have the guts to come to me and ask me what my deal was, because maybe that would have been the person to help me deal with my stage fright. Maybe her courage would have rubbed off on me and I would have given speeches later on in my life with her in mind and maybe, just maybe, I would have been thankful and a beautiful friendship might have grown from that.
But no. She thought it best to make observations to her friends and leave it at that.
I pray that I never become that. That I never see myself as so superior that other people doing something different to what I am used to warrants me the chance to talk about them to others or to belittle them.
I pray that I do not become the kind of person that feeds off other people’s insecurities since I already know how that feels and I wish it on no one.
I pray that I am able to help those that I can, and that I am able to lift them when they are down and that I am able to make people feel good about themselves when I feel good about myself and that when I don’t, I pray that I will have people to lift me up and help me stay there.
Being angry about something that one is not able to control is a dangerous feeling.
It eats at you from the inside and gives the illusion of self disapproval.
It destroys the light that is meant to shine brighter each day and that has to be the most unhealthy way to live.
That is my two cents.
Evil doesn’t heal evil.