Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Rebuilding Life Brick By Brick - Nakuru Womens Stories of Survival after the Post Election Violence (Part I)

My home town Nakuru is still picking up its social and economic pieces after the Post election violence. The town was adversely affected last year when insecurity heightened and a curfew was imposed to reduce the number of casualties.

I would like to take some time and talk about a few Nakuru women and their stories.

Today I pick a very special lady for her strength and will to survive.

Mama Ng’endo IDP from Londiani

Mama Ng’endo is an IDP from Londiani near Kericho.

She barely escaped death with her 5 children when aggressors burnt their home down without warning. Good Samaritans got them to Nakuru.

Her husband had left that morning to look for work; she had no idea whether he made it out in time.

She got to the IDP camp set up at the Nakuru Showground and registered her name just in case her husband came across it. But looking at the swelling crowds and rush for food she opted to leave the camp to seek help outside.

She went from house to house begging for food or clothes. She knocked on our gate one day at around lunch time. We welcomed her and shared some ugali and vegetables as she narrated her sad tale to us. Her main worry was her husband – she went to the Red Cross desk almost every day but there was still no word. We all tried to stay positive and encourage her.

She had her youngest child on her breast and he looked up at me with these huge eyes sad and tense; I could not begin to imagine what the child had witnessed in the few past weeks.

After the meal we gave her some supplies and a little money to help with the rest of her children and wished her well.

We learnt later that Mama Ng’endo’s husband didn’t make it.

She had little time to mourn as she now needed to focus on how to support her children. My dad helped her with a little capital to start up a liquid soap business. She is very committed to the venture – the returns though are paltry but it is a start.

Mama Ng’endo’s soap is quite effective and we use it a lot in the house.

She is now a frequent visitor here.

She set the kids up in a little shack in Ngacura near the local school so they can get on with education.

Whenever she visits, she always has a ready smile and a warm greeting. My heart reaches out to her but she likes to focus on light and happy things. I want to sometimes hug and hold her and tell her things will one day be alright. Instead, we share a cup of tea and chat about general things. She hardly complains but you can see in her eyes silent suffering.

I admire her spirit.

Sometimes, one sees a trace of sadness in her face when a dark memory fleets past and she stares down at her hands, willing tears back then she looks up with fierce determination getting on with the chat slowly regaining her composure…

I would like to celebrate Mama Ng’endo today. She constantly fights against remaining a victim of the cruel events that took place in the recent Post Election Violence.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

My Love Letter to you....

So it’s a big day today. Depending.

Capitalists are cashing in this Valentines by convincing you to show your affection to your beloved by buying something sweet, fragranced or cuddly…I always said if I wasn’t so lazy I would consider this business but alas I am a writer and would rather sit back and watch the drama unfold…..then write about it…

Valentine Day finds women in various phases of their lives…

Some little girls smile and giggle at the sight of love birds showing affection building their own castles in the air….

Bashful girlfriends waiting hoping and wondering what their chivalrous boyfriends would do…

There are also those who believe that Valentine is meant to be celebrated everyday and is therefore a routine day…

Or that it’s a waste of time and money….you know whatever makes you tick…

What amazes me is that 10 years ago valentine day was little known in Kenya…..nothing much happened – but lately our FM stations, TV’s and shops are colonized by the frenzy of activities it attracts. It is a bit much.

Last evening I got a thank you hug from my son for some thing or other I had done for him.

I was typing away on my computer, a bit distracted as I mumbled back …”love you”…then he paused and held his cheek against mine for a few extra seconds and said to me,

“Mum, I love your skin because it’s soooo soft.”

All at once I lost my trail of thought and held my son closer rather touched by his words (and to check if he had a fever since pre-teens are never mushy – unless of course they want something)…

His gesture and expression of love was spontaneous, simple and so sweet. It spoke volumes. I thought about how easy it would be to take these little things for granted…..

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have a special day to celebrate love.

But it might also be less sycophantic if we show a little bit of this affection in our daily lives too.

I believe women drive the course of relationships mostly because we are smarter and more sensible. Sometimes though, we get a little carried away with our expectations and benchmark ourselves with others too much…

Then those annoying little remarks (which are so unattractive) come to the fore,

“Mary gets roses every week, how come you don’t send me roses…”

“Why don’t you do this for me…why don’t you do that for me…?”

It progresses to a whine and soon no one wants to hang around you long enough to hear your tirade…bitterness and rage has a way of revealing a mirage of hideousness….we need to learn to let go and lighten our loads focus on what we really symbolize….

We are these amazingly soft but strong beings. Beautiful inside and out.

We have enough wisdom to help nudge our loved ones in the right direction without seeming condescending…

We have enough love to see past our children’s faults and patiently guide and interest them to a much better life…..

We have enough self-esteem to sit in the midst of chauvinistic men and hold our dignity and earn their respect without aloofness.

We hold ourselves together for the good of the family and the community…the world…

We just have to believe in ourselves…

We are always needed, wanted, desired and loved.

As we celebrate this day of love, I choose today to honor our women…the key to true love…

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Giving & Recieving Kenyan Style

I got a message today from an Editor that the US Embassy in Nairobi were looking for me regarding a story I did in their newspaper.

The piece was about an extraordinary girl called Maureen who helped the bedridden in Kibera access food and supplies in the height of the post election violence.

I was most curious and got in touch with them as soon as I could.

It turns out they want to invite her for a women’s event in May and just needed her phone number. I found it a little perplexing they didn’t just check the public directory and find the organization she was working for and track her down in one sure step. Go figure…

Anyway there were many such heroic stories. Many Kenyans needed to hear these positive accounts to raise hope that perhaps we still had some decency left in us even in the midst of that needless violence.

So a group of writers and photographers decided to document these great accounts, delve into the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary hearts. http://generationkenya.co.ke We took time off work, volunteered our time, money and enthusiasm to spread the good word of Kenyan heroes. As we spewed out hundreds of proposals to the Kenyan Corporate world, it became increasingly obvious that the culture of Philanthropy is not nurtured much in Kenya and a great idea fell through the cracks of lack of support. Such a shame. Documenting positive history is such an integral part of our heritage.

I recently had the opportunity of working briefly with Ufadhili Trust. They did a case study on Philanthropy in Kenya during the post election violence. The trends of their report indicated that Kenyans do have a culture of giving and that this needs to be cultivated and ingrained in our daily lives. Working with this dedicated group of people made me realize that we have people who perpetually document optimism in Kenya. We hope some day soon this constructive investment pays off.

In retrospect, the Post Election Violence brought out some good in us. That dark phase gave us an opportunity to emerge from our mediocre lives and express our compassion to those affected. It was also clear that many who reached out to help did not seek any gain; these were pure and unprecedented selfless acts of human kindness.

It’s a Kenyan thing.

Why then are we colonized with cut throat Kenyan Corporates who seek only to brand themselves and push sales and PR stunts?

As it were, if we their stakeholders are suffering or sick or dead how many sales would they push then?

I find it pretentious that some Kenyan Corporates set up whole policy documents on “Our Company’s (Truly…Truly) Philanthropy Division” independent so to speak from the profit making section…then require their applicants to do a follow up on how supporting this “noble venture would make their company look good…”

The secret is out - nothing makes a company look better than plain unadulterated giving…Some old adage says “You can’t receive if you don’t give.”

And so how much do we expect to receive each day anyway? As an individual; in remuneration or appreciation?

Or perhaps as a corporate – in share profits, daily sales and returns?

Perhaps the real question we should in fact ask is how much we give out first…

BRACE YOURSELF! Stare back at the Mirror (& Dare to look & feel Pretty!!!)

My mum used to force us to go to mass every Sunday…in time we developed our petulant skills and eventually had to get bribed to attend God’s house with promises of treats like swimming or permission to visit neighbors kids…

While in church – my siblings attended catechism class… I was still too young to attend and a nuisance to the other kids….so my mum opted that I just be a nuisance to the adults in church (adults are nicer to brats…fact!)

Now anyone who attended mass in Trinity church in Milimani knows that they needed a new public address system for yeeaaaaars…and the father was so so soooo dull…and to expect me a 7 year old to keep awake without some impish activities was a miracle hardly achievable and this almost always got me hard pinches from my mummy.

So one day I was such a saint – quiet and obedient like a proper catholic girl. Sitting perked up at the neighboring pew. I hadn’t carried my dolls head ( I decapitated it since I only liked its hair – umm that’s another story)and I followed the priest’s lead by copying the people next to me….So much so my mum was very suspicious.

So she motioned me to join her in her pew so she could investigate this new non-naughty behavior (I swear she was psychic with eyes on the back of her head – HOW DID MOTHERS ALWAYS KNOW WHEN WE WERE UP TO SOMETHING????)

So I avoided all eye contact and sulked as I joined her. She wondered why I was not meeting her eyes…BUT heeeeee! I could not let her see…nooooooooo way man….

We were singing *“Nasaliti nasalitiiiii…….” And I pumped in some energy into the song looking dead straight……

Mum wasn’t falling for that one… she grabbed my face and forced me to look at her and then ALLLAAAA!


….my eyes were all colored up with “make up”

(Point to note – Mrs Wainaina nee Binyavanga DID NOT CONDONE MAKE UP OF ANY KIND. Make up conversations began at the age of 16 and are restricted to eye pencil and a touch of lip gloss if any…)


So my makeup drama began when I snuck my mothers old copies of Woman’s Weekly – looking at all the ads and all the women I wondered how can one survive without a dab of make up…(talk of brainwash – it starts early)..

Ok so I made a calculated risk…I figured if I could doll myself up with make up and look stunning throughout mass and have all the adults say how beautiful I looked (well at least that’s what the ads insinuated and assured me) then this would work as the best testimonial to let my mother open her mind…….

Now in my spirit of innovation I asked myself why people bother wearing “eye pencil” which rubbed off easily?? Being the bright bulb I decided to take it a notch higher and use a ball pen on my eyes instead – since …..yes you got it …it lasts forever! That way I have make up all day and night…fresh-(ish)….as I was dolling up my mum had her hand full blast on the horn of the car in a howling an annoying loud hoot….so I worked quickly (translated as clumsily) and dashed to the car and averted my face crossing my fingers the day goes ok…

Back at Mass (…*nasalitii nasalitiiiiii at the background….)

So now you know what my mother saw in horror when she looked at my face there in the middle of Mass…there was a gruesome amount of black bic biro around my eyes I looked hideous…there were dark erratic lines emphasizing my eyebrows….but you know I thought I looked divine…

I even batted my eyelids at her and smiled sweetly…..

(People! my shadiness has come from far…)

My mum surprised me by smiling and ignoring me for the rest of mass…aiii no that was too easy – something stunk and I hadn’t had beans for a while…..

Mass went on and suddenly I started faltering…what if my plan didn’t work…what if my mum was just waiting for the right moment to pinch my fleshy self…what if she told my dad…..ooooh the horror!!!

After the benediction I tried to make a quick escape out of the chapel and run to the car…

But you know church – everyone is clamoring to leave as soon as possible so I was squished and squashed and people’s mummy’s and daddy’s all wanted to shake hands and say hello… (I was a sweet girl then always in some fancy Sunday best dress)

But alas! When they looked at my face…I saw their expressions changing…laughter, swallowed in……others were less discreet and laughed out loud asking me what I had done to my face…many were horrified at what I had done to my face…..

And you know how everyone likes a good laugh especially after mass…so in minutes I had a crowd round me outside church pointing and laughing…guffawing in the most indecent way…tears popped and filled my eyes…. through the blur of tears and I desperately looked around for help…

My mum caught my eye and nodded discreetly mouthing…”you see I told you…”

The laughter went on cruelly……my lips quivered and there was a serious threat of full blown sobs….then a hand grabbed at me…and shoved me away from the crowd…it was my big brother. He held me tight and threatened punches to other kids who pointed at me and laughed. Kids stepped aside. Big brothers were never messed with – even in church.

My bro was pissed. We walked too fast I was struggling to catch up and wipe snort and tears with my other hand….

When we got to where my mums car was parked…he got his hankie out of his pocket and tried to wipe my messy face….a bit too hard…by then I was crying like a banshee hiccupping sobs…most of the biro didn’t come off…..

He told me to shut up – which I did because he is the only person on earth am terrified of and obey without question. (Till today!!!)

Then he held me close while leaning on the car door – I was just hacking out some dry sobs…..trying my best to calm down.

My mum came to the car with my other brother and sister. They were calling me names…as usual….

Big bro shushed them loudly – and they shut up instantly (we all kinda feared this guy)

“Chiqy – what you did was stupid …rules are rules and you need to respect that. If you don’t learn to obey then you have to pay the price. Next time I won’t rescue you when you mess up. Sawa?”

(FYI – he still rescues me all the time even today…why else would we have big brothers ????)

I stuttered back. ”OK”

We got into the car and drove home.

I was sulking big time (did you used to say “ana fura kama mandaziiiiii….”) and hid my face all the way home.

When I got home...my mum who still hadn’t said anything… held my hand and took me to the bathroom sink and washed my face up with a warm wet soapy flannel.

Then she told me – in a warm mummy voice –

“You are who you are, you are beautiful and no make up in the world could light up your face like your smile does…”

She rinsed off the ink from the flannel in clean water and dabbed at my face again, “Your eyes are the windows of your soul. They show the depths of your passion – no make up could ever do that…”

“Wear make up at the right time and for the right reason. Let it excite your senses and reflect your mood.”

Then she turned my face to the mirror and said…

“Look, there is pretty Chiqy again…” kissed my cheek and left.

So now even on horrible days I just look at the mirror and brace myself. I try to see what mum saw back at the reflection … a pretty me…

Writers Note - * supposed to read, “Nasadikii, nasadikii….” (Translation – Nasaliti means betraying trust & Nasadikii means – I believe…)