WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 I met you on a boring Tuesday. What you don’t know, I was not in the mood to talk, much less to a stranger but I did it anyway.

 I wore black and let my hair down. What you don’t know, I spent hours trying to find the perfect outfit to match my mood; somber, uninspired, black.

I missed my matatu, because I went back to the house to change shoes. What you don’t know is had I not gone back I probably would not have caught the one you were on.

 I get into the matatu, the back seat is unoccupied but yet I take the one next to you. What you don’t know, I didn’t bother to check who I was sitting with. I didn’t matter, the journey was routine anyway.

I make it a habit to pay before I’m asked. I take out my money and you stir in your seat. What you don’t know, I didn’t mean to distract you from your lessons in Swahili.

We get off, exchange pleasantries, and head in different directions. What you don’t know, I hit the internet and Googled you.

Days became nights and then weeks and finally months and voila…I was engrossed. What you don’t know, I secretly hoped you were too.

You were, for a moment…I was, possibly for a while to come. What you don’t know…you turned my Tuesday around. What you don’t know…won’t hurt you. What you don’t know hurts me.  What you don’t know, being friends is second best.

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My Keratoconic Self is Special

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

That I have Keratoconus is not the point. That I’m reminded every second that someday I will completely lose my sight and that in the meantime I cannot drive or walk around unaccompanied is what gets to me. That my doctor is surprised I made it to her office without my contact lenses on gets to me. That the girl sitting next to me in high school made a mockery of my eye condition and lied to me about what was written on the board just to prove that indeed I could not see that far gets to me. That my boss gets impatient when I take forever to locate stuff on my computer gets to me. That the bank teller would not help me fill out the deposit form correctly even after I told him I can’t make out the numbers on my ATM card gets to me. That people feel sorry for me gets to me.

For those of you wondering what keratoconus is, it’s a degenerative eye condition that affects 1 in 1000 people. Yes out of the 1000 people in my vicinity, I’m the only one with it. Isn’t that special? I am special. Heck, I’ll prove it! I’ve had the condition for about 14 years now; did it stop me for being the energetic, motivated person that I am? No! I did my national exams in primary school with no glasses. I would lie face down on my desk, my eyes would be centimeters away from the question paper and answer sheet and the teachers never inquired. They sat me at the back of the class and put the noisy ones in front. I would be ten steps behind in my reading, because I had no idea what he just wrote on the board. Yet I passed, probably did better than I expected; 12th position out of 33. Come high school, I got a pair of glasses, with time they couldn’t help me. My eyesight grew worse. By the time I was sitting for my final exam at Form Four, the glasses were completely useless. Yet, I passed; 3 points short of securing a place at the local universities.

This morning I wake up to go see my doctor. Her instructions were clear. “Have your contacts off hours before the routine.” That way she could correctly examine the condition of my eyeball. So I woke up, got ready and proceeded to town. Of course everything was blurred. If you’ve lived in Nairobi you know how crazy it is to attempt to cross roads, much worse of you can’t see properly! But somehow, I made it to her office after losing my bearing around the city a couple of times. She sees me and after the exam, she is shocked that with such poor eyesight I still made it to her office. Did I say I was special? Take note.

 I just finished my degree in Communication (Print Media) and it was a struggle, both because of finances and my eye condition. Thankfully black or white boards are used minimally in campus. I’ve had to rely heavily on my sense of hearing. Got my first pair of contact lenses in 2005, had them for 4 years-instead of 2! That stuff is pricy but now that I’m working I could probably afford another pair. I keep thinking I need a long-term solution. Surgery, perhaps. But that costs an arm and a leg. It’s scary when they tell you as you get older it gets worse. I intend to keep living my life to the fullest. I’m told it would be easier if I didn’t live alone and if I had a boyfriend, brother, sister to take me everywhere. I don’t need that. I have always managed alone. Besides I’m not blind. I just have a degenerative condition with a very funny name that sounds like shoes in Kikuyu. Other than the pounding headaches I get at the end of every day, I’m perfectly alright. I cook my own food, go to work by myself, manage to get home even when it gets dark, I’ve mastered how to tell the vehicles are far enough when crossing roads…yes, I’m fine! I am special, ain’t nobody telling me anything different.

Kibera Ni Yetu!

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Nairobi

When @mahebob asked me to paint him a picture of what I thought Kibera was like, I didn’t hesitate. What came to mind and rushed out of my mouth was…broad daylight thuggery, crude weapons, dilapidated shelters, foul-smelling trenches, flying toilets…I went on and on. Never mind that I had never set foot in interior Kibera. It was minutes after our conversation ended that I really thought about @mahebob’s question. And I realized that there’s an off chance that I could be wrong. But even if I turned out to be right, surely there was more to Kibera than met the eye. The desire to find out for myself burned deep within.

Just like me, majority of Kenyans know what they know about Kibera from watching short films by both local and international producers, TV and radio news items, tales by friends who have or have not been to Kibera, newspaper articles etc. So when an opportunity to visit Kibera presented itself, I was more than convinced that this was my chance to experience what was possibly the world’s largest slum and to tell the story from my perspective.

May 14, 2011. I got up early to get ready. With the sort of image I had in mind, I chose my outfit for the day carefully. A pair of faded black jeans, slightly faded blue top, old black sweater and off white sneakers. Being the girl that I am I wasn’t going to match off, even into Kibera, without a hot pair of earrings. I figured if I was gonna look ragged, I’d do so fashionably. Mother always says be ready for your husband could find you anywhere. And doesn’t Kibera qualify as the said ‘anywhere’?

The turnout by tweeps for the inaugural #KiberaRoadTrip was amazing. For an idea that was birthed through interactions on Twitter, the response was overwhelming. I only knew a couple of the attendees from tweeting each other but I had never met them off line. This would turn out to be a social networking experience as well as a chance to give back to society. So off we went, and in groups of about 8 we followed with interest as our guides gave instructions.

I was in Gigi’s group. Gigi is a young man spotting dreadlocks and the spitting image of Kama, the lead actor in Hot Sun Film’sTogetherness Supreme. Turns out they are brothers! I’m not sure if he refers to blood brothers or the bond they have, glued together by their shared struggles and dreams of a better Kibera. Togetherness Supreme is a feature-film that captures real life experiences of Kibera youth during the 2007 post-poll violence. Produced by Mercy Murugi (@mercymurugi), it is a moving story of a young man, Kamau, and his experiences as he gets caught up in the 2007 post-poll violence in Kenya, and particularly in Kibera. The film captures the typical life at Kibera from the struggles of street kids, to how unsuspecting youth are used by power-hungry politicians to fan violence, to the sufferings of the elderly and the sick.

Togetherness Supreme poster

Gigi and Kama are part of Jah Army; a musical outfit that he tells us seeks to promote peace and unity among the youth in Kibera. Jah Army has two albums under its belt and plans of unleashing another one are underway. He says theirs is a calling to spread messages of peace and reconciliation in Kibera. I like how he puts in: “The future generation depends on us. We have to live a life that inspires others.”

Born and bred in Kibera, Gigi knows the area quite well and anyone who’s been to Kibera knows you need such expertise otherwise getting lost is nothing new. This need for direction has in the recent times necessitated the introduction of Kibera maps which would make it easier to navigate the complicated web that is Kibera. Kibera youth came up with an open digital map of the area and this has increased interactivity as community members chip in information towards the project.

Kibera slum. Photo by Alvin Gachie

Gigi gave us a backgrounder of what life was like for the average Kibera youth and as we sat under the tree that has over the years provided a shaded meeting base for Jah Army, I began to shed all manner of stereotypes I had slapped on Kibera and its people. Here is a community riddled with poverty and all manner of social atrocities. Boys drop out of school for lack of fees and get into crime. Girls drop out of school for lack of fees and get into early marriages or end up as street kids battling to protect themselves from ruthless rapists. Social amenities are almost a luxury.Well-equipped hospitals and schools are far between. Clean water supply, sanitation, decent clothing, books…

I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I have hot-water shower at my house and yet I still complain when I wake up and it’s not hot enough. I have access to private university education and yet I still complain about how much work the lecturers throw at us. I have permanent shelter, my own bed, security…and yet I still complain. How much more selfish can one get.

What I found inspiring and absolutely encouraging is the resolve of the Kibera people to live. Despite their misfortunes, the youth especially have a stubborn resolve to stay alive and not to succumb to life’s imbalances. Gigi is a typical modern-day Kibera youth. He is a passionate film enthusiast working with a number of NGOs on projects geared towards improving the lives of Kibera youth. Currently he is also involved with the Norwegian embassy’s initiative dubbed Amani Lazima that has been visiting slums in the country spreading the message of peace. It is the hope in his eyes and the hunger for change that motivate him to wake up each day and face Kibera. Like him, many youth in Kibera desire a better life. They need to know there is a bigger world out there for their exploration. They need to keep their dreams and talents alive. It is in line with this that Kibera Mpira Mtaani among others initiatives, were formed to bring back the cheer and sense of participation in Kibera. Kibera Mpira Mtaani has been instrumental in mentoring young people and offering hope through their sports and education programs.

Sea of mabati roofs in Kibera. Photo by Alvin Gachie

At the end of the #KiberaRoadTrip, I felt greatly challenged. I realized Kibera ni yetu (Kibera is ours) and as a country and more-so the youth, we owe it to ourselves to share our privileges. I realized too that I was wrong. There’s more to Kibera than the sprawling rusted mabati roofs. There are talented kids living in those temporary shelters and deplorable conditions. There is a distinct warmness about the people of Kibera. They are at peace with themselves. It is the world that keeps judging. They are welcoming. Circumstances just do not allow them to make much progress but the passion is there, the drive and the common interest towards change and a better life.

There is something each one of us can do for those unfortunate around us. We can dedicate our time, efforts and resources towards bettering the life of somebody else. The kids at Kibera need mentorship. They need guidance and life skills. They need books that when they read, they become exposed to a world they never knew. And this is how we can get them to keep their dreams alive. Mohandas Gandhi once said: A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes. Through mentors, the thoughts of these kids will continue to be shaped positively and there’s no limit to what great people they’ll one day become.

Read Kirsty McLullich’s post on #KiberaRoadTrip here. She volunteers with Vision Africa. Many thanks to her and the organizers of this event. It was truly inspiring.

Perfectly Hu-woman!

Posted: May 13, 2011 in Endless rants

For just two seconds, I want to make it about me. Once in a while I like to give myself permission to break down. Yes. This always-composed woman, cavorting everywhere she goes would like to drag her feet, punch walls with her bare fists, go off at anybody and anything for nothing, blame the stars for being misaligned, bawl her eyes out for hours, shove ice-cream down her throat and just be. Yes. I like to make it about me once in a while. *cue the song ‘Unappreciated’ here:-)*

Lately I’ve been in a funk and what bothers me more than the problem itself is the fact that I can’t help the situation. Helplessness paralyzes you. It drains every joule of energy in your system and leaves you at the mercies of your own corrupted thoughts. It leads you into contemplating giving up and then quickly jostling you back to your senses only to let you drop hard, into a dark cold abyss. And as your now limp body crumples into a heap you let go…of all resolves to fight, all stubbornness, defiance…all hope.

But it is in that moment of despair, of utter defenselessness that you remember what you’re about. You remember that which stirred a passion in you to live once upon a time. In that low point you muster the courage to move, if only just an inch, towards hope. And suddenly everything becomes clearer. Suddenly the dark clouds are transformed into lessons; lessons in patience, in resilience, in forgiving…And you get up, dust yourself off and come out into the world; a world ready to judge your every move, to banish your dreams as child’s play, to ridicule your intent to change the world, to mock you, to remind you that you have no money or influence…such is the battle we face from time to time. Will you sit back and let them win? Or will you come out guns blazing and show them who’s boss? Will you let your dream go down the drain or will you nurture them into the beautiful reality you so seek? Playing victim is tiring. Blaming others is overrated .So I’m taking control for the umpteenth time; reminding myself that this too shall pass. The sun is gonna shine brighter tomorrow and I will prance around like the ballerina I secretly wish I was.

Here’s to forgiveness, rekindled dreams, reawakened passions, hope for the future and a spirit that doesn’t die easy….Cheers!

Unapologetically Female!

Posted: May 13, 2011 in Off the cuff

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I am female. Unless you have a better explanation for these bumps and curves. Do you? I thought so. Anyway, it rocks to be female, and unapologetically so. We get away with a lot of stuff which I’m sure your average male wouldn’t be spared death by scornful looks if he so much as contemplated said stuff. You see, I’ve been in some situations where I made mistakes that banishing me from earth would’ve been punishment enough but I got away with just but a “Come oooooon, I didn’t mean to” said in the sweetest feline manner ever and punctuated by the infamous but effective puppy look, slight tilt of the head and toying with braids. You can’t possibly say no to that face! It works every time, like magic.

That we are dainty is nothing new. There’s something about us that moves the world to action. I never knew many men who upon tripping had everyone scrambling to give them a hand. Well, they may get help but not as quickly and with so much fuss as a beautiful young female with well-manicured nails, delicate make-up and the body of a goddess. She might as well have them carry her on their backs rather than risk misaligning a bone. Such is the power of the female aura. Be warned, well not exactly because you never see her charm coming. Just when you are getting ready to admonish her for max-ing out your credit card, driving your baby-on-wheels into a ditch, messing up your expensive camera…you melt and all forms of fury go out the window.

I mean, this is your mother. She brought you into this world and that gives her exclusive rights to your credit card and she will max it if she so damn well pleases. It could be your sister. You can’t possibly chew her head off for driving your baby into the ditch. Let it slide. Besides she looks so apologetic flailing her arms in an attempt to explain how she was avoiding to “knocking down the cute-looking cat.”

So…yes. There are several things we females can get away with. If you ever wondered how you can get past the throng of people at a concert to the front for better view, your sister, girlfriend or any other female friend should come in handy. Just get her to push through the crowd, follow closely behind saying repetitively, “Sorry, she’s a little psycho, trying to distract her till the medics get here.” It works. You doubt me? Try it.

Women can get out of just about anything by having a headache. Neighborhood meetings, that visit to the home of the meddling in-laws, the christening of her boyfriend’s cousin-twice-removed’s second daughter…and all those boring engagements, social or otherwise. And if the headache card seems to get you hesitating she could switch to the period card. Surely she couldn’t possibly be forced to travel miles to upcountry to see grandma in her condition.

How many men can pee together in a one-roomed bathroom? Women can! In fact we hold conversations while we are doing it. For the men though, there is a strict field size or better yet a wall between two males, no eye contact or even speaking.

And how many times have you had to go back home, miss a play or wait hours to go to a concert only to arrive there late because she just couldn’t decide which shoes would go well with her outfit. If a guy were to attempt this the first words to him would be, “Butch up, SOPHIA!”

Stalking! Yes, it’s sorta cute when a hot female follows a guy around.  Admit it; it’s flattering even if for personal reasons you wouldn’t want to pursue her. But when men stalk, it’s criminal. I would call the cops on him immediately regardless of that sexy smile he keeps flashing me.

Where fashion is related we are allowed to cram our butts into a-size-smaller jeans, carry purses, wear v-necks, wear wigs, tweeze our eyebrows into a thin line, stack up loads of jewelry etc. Regardless of whether men call them man-purses or murses, those tiny hand clutches do not work for your images. And don’t get me started on butt-hugging jeans and v necks. Oh the eyesore! Also extreme body hair removal is a preserve of the ladies and so is going commando occasionally. Some men do it and just thinking about it is enough to gross me out.

So there you have it! From yours truly, unapologetically-female!

While You Were Away…

Posted: April 24, 2011 in Off the cuff

While you were away…

I turned 1…mother kept photos…chubby little angel with the sunken eyes…

She sat peacefully staring into blank space, while I babbled and played with her blouse.

While you were away…

I turned 11…mother kept photos…shy lanky girl with the spaced-out teeth…

She combed my hair backwards…ironed the dress with the little bow and sat me on the couch. Lessons in being a lady…head up straight…swallow all the pain and smile.

While you were away…

I turned 16…got kicked out of high school for acting out…

Mother kept photos…self-conscious young woman with an attitude, a passion for written word, a dream bigger than herself, and an anger that bubbled silently under.

While you were away…

I turned 18…liked the boy with the nervous smile, the sweaty palms, the best Math student at his school.

Mother kept photos…slim, tall woman with the permanent ponytail, and sweaters in all colors.

While you were away…

I turned 21…fell in like with an older man…a social rebel, he loved me and then he didn’t. I fed off his sense of rebellion, his defiance of everything proper, his ragged nature…

Mother kept photos…an elegant, well poised woman, with glossed lips, processed hair and low-cut blouse.

While you were away…

I turned 24…struggled to relate to men, I saw you in them…at least I imagined you in them.

Mother kept photos…a grown-up woman, well-educated woman, a flirt but deep within lived in fear and longing…of something beautiful, something stable…

While you were away…

I turned 26…and wrote a letter…a passionate appeal to God, to keep you safe…to lead me to you…

If only just so I can hand you this letter…this attempt to understand your journey, to reconcile with the ghosts from past days…to see who mother says I take after, who’s blood flows in my veins…who’s occupied my thoughts for 26 years…the last chapter in this book I struggle to complete.

While you were away…I called no other, Daddy.

If you haven’t already heard because you stayed too long in that cave o’ yours or you’re just not “with it”…Nairobi Tweet Up #3 happened yesterday, Sunday 17, 2011 at the Mercury Lounge, ABC Place Westlands. And it was AWESOME!!

It’s always a pleasure getting together with interesting tweeps in an afternoon of shared ideas, shared bitings (thanks @simonsema for the fish sweets!), shared joy and laughter. Worth noting and something that’s absolutely beautiful are the friendships and partnerships that have been fostered through this monthly get-together. And yesterday was no exception. I had the opportunity to meet a number of newbies to the family:

@Sirlliciously Alison Ngibuini, a Producer who blogs here 

@vancemuriu Evans Muriu C.E.O | Entrepreneur | Accountant | Business analyst, Strategist and conceptualization |Project Manager | Thinker | Writer. Find him here.

@Just_sham_it Shamit Patel who describes himself as just a guy who loves to write and who hopes to change the world someday. He blogs here 

Shamit’s dad:-)

@mikemunyi  Michael Munyi An advertising professional based in Nairobi

@Nafterli Naftali Thaithi God fearing, Teetotaler & a not so fun adrenaline Junkie…hehe… who speaks his mind. Find him here

@fabmush Joan Mumo  A wedding planner based in Nairobi. She came with me, had fun and hasn’t stopped talking about it!

Add that to the usual suspects @LucyKims, @Navraj, @hugocious, @EdGicovi, @ayumyum @kenyanmathree/@EdwinKuria, @ahmedsalims, host @davidmuriithi and yours truly…you get a full house of brilliant minds, creatives, business buffs, social activists, writers, energetic self-starters ready to take on the world!

The Nairobi TweetUp Family

Unfortunately the instigator and the brains behind NairobiTweetUp ParasGudka (@TheParasGudka) could not make it as he is currently in India. Am sure he would have loved to be there and blog posts like this and photos like the ones by @davidmuriithi serve to paint a picture of just how successful the tweetup was and his dream of bringing people together lives on. (Cue the chant “For he is a Jolly good fellow” hereJ)

The most interesting thing about the tweetup this time round was the speeches. And who better to bring the house down and bring us (well, me at least) to the brink of tears than Ahmed Salims (@ahmedsalims) and KirstyMcLullich (@VisionAfrica). Themed around Social activism, entrepreneurship and NGOs, the tweetup inspired action rather than mere talk.

Ahmed Salims started off by taking as down his memory lane, narrating how he first became an entrepreneur. This is one passionate guy and his humble background reflects a lot in the way he handles business and generally his source of inspiration. The founder of FluidTees, a contemporary brand of top design t-shirts in Kenya, emphasized on owning what you do, speaking passionately about it and running with your dream. I liked how he has taken advantage of social media to market his ideas and in effect reach more and more people. It’s not just the business of making money; it’s doing what you love and making a difference while you are at it. Join the rest of Nairobi in looking cool by ordering your personalized tee here

Next came Kirsty McLullich, a full time volunteer with Vision Africa. She is based in Nairobi and pretty much handles the Communications for the NGO keeping everyone abreast on their activities on Facebook and Twitter. Hers was a story of inspiration, calling to serve and making a difference however small. Just listening to her tell the stories of some of the kids her organization is assisting made me tear. Often we take life for granted and for just a second I saw life through those kids eyes and I was moved…moved to action. You see, it’s not enough to want change; you gotta be part of it. The NGO world face a lot of challenges and help in whatever form is always welcome. Check out Vision Africa to make your contribution today. Amazing how much information flow is useful in getting word out but when such information is always negative then there’s a problem. Read Kirsty’s blog post on how  you can be a good news ambassador telling the wonderful stories that make a difference in the lives of others.

In the end I learnt to keep going…do what I do responsibly and make a difference in someone’s life. And just as Kirsty was taking her seat, there was already amazing response to help out the kids she supports. Help from within the tweetup family and also from a well-wisher who just happened to be at the Lounge enjoying a drink. This help was in the form of cash and brilliant ideas about initiatives to bring a smile to the faces of the lovely kids Vision Africa supports. As Kirsty put it, be the Hero in your own story!

The Nairobi Tweet Up get-together has turned out to be a great forum to exchange ideas, have fun and inspire each other to grow. The lessons were plenty, friendships were forged and best of all we left feeling inspired to be the change we wanted to see. See you all in a month!