Monday, 17 October 2016

Feminist Chronicles - Appreciate your Boss Day

One of the most biggest lessons I have learnt this year has been to be painstakingly deliberate and strategic in whatever I set out to do and that it has to count for something bigger than just me. I would like to share some of my reflections of tenets I embraced that are helping me with my ambitious goals:

1. Think - Support & Inspiration: One of the most understated pillars we need as activists and as women is support. Support is the unseen companion of late night deadlines, tense and difficult moments and when our bodies and minds are at the brink of letting out.  It gives an extraordinary burst of strength to keep our eye on the ball against our body and mind sensations which are many times stretched to the limits.

What cant we achieve if we know that we have someone who has our back?

Act – Pass it on

Over the months, two formidable feminists told me that after a brief discussion with them on how to strengthen the regional women rights movement they felt reenergised and inspired. I was touched, one of them has been in the movement for over 30 years and to hear that from her made me realise how important it is for us as a movement to pass along enabling support and inspiration in all our interactions with fellow women. It is in some of the conversations that we share; formal or informal that we have an opportunity to meaningfully touch people’s lives.

No matter how big or small passing this as you receive it goes such a long way in a creating a chain reaction that is positive and affirming of ourselves as women.

2. Thinking - Igniting Inner Power: Our inner power when ignited is so transformational it cannot be contained. It glows and radiates outward. It is easy to pick out someone who has found their voice and their power and this coupled with power of solidarity is a force that cannot be stopped. Thanks to the empowering environment, we are slowly keeping the embers of a women’s movement alive and burning for change.

Acting – Reconfiguring Power and Power Relations: Subsequent to some of the capacity building initiatives we have undertaken has resulted in some participants coming up to the resource persons to let them know how the training changed their thinking as individuals, but also talking about the value it lends in enriching their activism work and their organizing to challenge oppressive systems.

In the very same principle of having a generous spirit, we ask them to pass along to those who were not in the room. We need to reconfigure power and in these small steps aggregate in building a revolution.

3. Thinking - Compassion: In a tough world with difficult work cut out for us every day, sometimes forget the more supple sides of our humanity. Compassion allows us to really look, see, connect, understand and appreciate each other better.

Acting – Compassion: When we verbalize compassion we are more sensitive, caring and kind. As feminists it also means ensuring we do not victimize or minimize our own and other people’s circumstances and realities. This has really strengthened my analysis and the approach I take when I interact with partners and collaborators in the movement. It is fed off the fact that my own supervisor looks at me as a whole person and I want to be able to share that in my own work and connections.

4. Thinking - Accountability: Part of support, empowerment and compassion is keeping ourselves as individuals and as a collective accountable. Every so often we need a nudge to remind us our responsibility to be part of social transformation. No movement will grow without work, no work can be transformational without it being something we are accountable for. 

Act – Being Answerable
At the tail end of accountability is taking ownership for what we do. It means developing a good worth ethic devoid of excuses and coping out. With a tight balance of more things to do with very little time; practicing and verbalizing accountability has helped me prioritize, sometimes make very difficult decisions, and to ensure that what is put forward is the best possible body of work with or without the nudges.

All these elements weave delicately into a patterned design way of working that is not only meaningful but also very gratifying for me.

I would therefore like to honor my boss today as her deliberate efforts in creating an enabling environment for me has let this happen.

There is a saying that we stand tall because we stand on the shoulder of giants. As I reflect on my year and my personal and professional growth, one such giant is most definitely my boss.

Happy Appreciate your Boss Day.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

I am, your faithful Lovivore

Blooms from Topkapı Palace Museum June 2016

Over the years life has visibly had its toll on me
My body bears battle scars and visible signs of wear and tear
My mind murky with memories of old hurts and let downs
I see new wrinkles, curves, aches and dimpled parts each day
I sometimes still feel the pain of old wounds and anguish
Like a battleground time absorbs some of the desolation of my banal existence

But then YOU...
You happened in my life
Awakening long forgotten passions
Created new heights of delight and feeling I never imagined
This radical love you give me so unmeasured, unconditional and in bounty
Heals and strokes me so tenderly each day.
It restores my body smoothing over my rough edges
My scabs and less nimble parts of me transformed
I now radiate from the inside out, besotted in your endearments

You reshaped and remolded my weary self
Into an attested lovevivore!
Existing only in the sustenance that is your devotion

I remain forever yours

And in endless gratitude to favourable fates, that brought us together 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Immerse and Hide in Beauty

Things that make me happy

Today, amid all the frenzied throngs of this mad punishing world:

I feel radiant, as morning sunlight creeping in; warming, lighting, illuminating

I feel beautiful, like a burst of colour speckled garden and neat dewy patches of green grass

I feel alluring, with rhythmic sways to sounds of ‘Let me Back In’ by Explosions in the Sky

All this beauty provokes all senses and wraps me tight and close in a warm embrace…

Hiding me from pain, harshness and the bluntness of cold hard reality

How then can I not feel amazing today?

... Even just but for a little while….

Saturday, 30 July 2016

.....of Life and Reflections....

Kilifi Dawn July 2016

Its a day before my birthday and waking up to a chesty cough but otherwise glad to be here and mostly alive…I have always been a sucker for birthdays a childish habit I have not grown out of. Nowadays though, I spend time reflecting on stuff; the past and speculating about the future quite a bit.

This year I want to share three reflections that have been on my mind:

1.     Sometimes we are so self-absorbed and focused and inanely obsessed with people around us and what they are doing to us that we forget to pause, breathe and live. I remember one particularly bad time for me circa 2003 when I was going through so many misfortunes and so much angst. I had a handful of good friends who patiently listened to my non-stop rants about all the injustice around me.

One day a friend interrupted me and asked in a quiet voice, 

"Is this person you keep going on and on about your oxygen because you cant seem to get by a minute without complaining about them. Do you need them to breathe?"

Wow I smarted for a second absorbing the words. I searched my friend's facial expressions and did not see any unkindness, but rather exasperation and fatigue wondering how to help me get past the dark sullen stormy self I transformed into.

 This question seemed to snap me out of my reverie and realise just how difficult it would have been to be my friend and love me then; I was an angry ball of fire, souring every one and everything around me. If I felt particularly down and I needed to share I would and go on and on about it without consideration of others or any preamble. It occurred to me how many friends I lost along the way because I was so focused on ME-ME-ME...  I was so disconnected that I never bothered to check in and reciprocate the relationship.

So, back to my tête-à-tête. We had fallen to a prolonged awkward silence. My buddy worried if they went to far, but I looked up reassuringly and smiled through teary eyes. I drew a long deep breath and let everything out. As I exhaled, I let out the anger, the frustrations and the bitterness and felt a weight lift off my whole being.

Surely I am more than this!

"Nobody is my oxygen…you are right of course and no matter how much people work at being hurtful, I need to let things go and move on with life."

I gradually began to let go of all the bile in my heart and started to feel really at peace. I am often reminded of this exchange from time to time when people are particularly mean-spirited...and I am eternally grateful for the few individuals in my life who stick it with me as though to assure me that there is some worth in being my friend.

2. My second reflection is about the last conversations I had with my parents.

On 5 July 2000, at the ward in Kenyatta Hospital while sponge bathing mum and trying not to worry at how in a span of one week she was hardly recognisable, we talked about a new job at a mobile company I was to begin that Friday. She was pleased and wondered if a mobile company in Kenya would be viable asking why anyone in their right minds would need to carry a phone everywhere. I shrugged quite unsure of this myself, but since I was not in the sales department and only needed to worry about customers who had already signed up, I didn’t give it much thought.

And frankly I was more preoccupied with the fact that the doctor was yet to come and review mum that day more than anything. Suddenly, our conversation shifted gears; she got really sad and I could see a flicker of fear in her eyes.

You see, mum has been sick since she was three months pregnant with me, so I was born and grew up watching her battle with her body pretty much all of my life. I remember nights when she needed to be rushed to the Emergency Room worrying if it was the last time I would see her alive. 

You see, mum had good and bad days. Good days she was warm and kind and did my hair, taught me to knit, crotchet...she could draw and sketch...and was always trying her hand at some new business or idea. Bad days were tough.. she locked herself in her room a lot, got really angry and said very cutting hurtful things to lash out. She never raised her voice but you could see the anger in her eyes. I remember seeing where she hid Baba's vodka, under the cushion of a set of green twin seats they had in their bedroom. Vodka made her mean. I pretended not to notice and never really talked about it. At the club by the poolside I knew she sneaked a bit of vodka into her tomato juice. It was easier to pretend not to see and I learnt not to ask. I crammed my dad's direct line at the office at a young age because he would some times need to rush home to mum when we could not rouse her and rush her to hospital. 

Often in the thick of things, I was forgotten and left in the big house to my own devices at times through the night. I must have been about nine or ten. My siblings who were a bit older were in boarding school or college and saved from most of this drama. I learnt to get by painfully slow hours of the night and loneliness with the company of my overactive imagination. In spite this, I loved mum in good and in bad times...and some of my most restful sleep as a child was spooned in her embrace when I could hear her breath....

So flash-forward - mum had a look that I could not quite fathom, and I had seen all kinds of sides of her over the years. But visiting time was over and it was time to leave the wards. The askaris were chasing us out. I could tell she did not want me to leave...

Then she just said it, "Chiqy, I do not want to die.  There are so many things I still need to do..." 

My heart sank.

Words failed me, I murmured something like ‘of course you are not going anywhere..’ and caressed her hair which was still jet black and beautiful even then.  I kissed her on the forehead and promised to visit the next day. We held hands and lingered and she calmed down almost resigned. I kissed her soft cheeks once more time and left with a lump on my throat.

Little did I know that it was the last time we would ever speak … Two days later and on the day I started the new job she died. 16 years and 24 days later I am still numb from that loss. And I do not like vodka, or alcohol for that matter.

With Baba, our last conversation was early July 2011. He had seen a press advert about some Ministry asking for bids to sell off some grounded cars and trucks. He spotted a land cruiser and needed it for parts. He called me on my cell and asked me to type up a bid for him and send it to the Ministry on his behalf. Baba was a fusspot so he kept reiterating how I should follow all the stipulations or risk disqualification for the bid. I rolled my eyes as he spoke real slow and shouted into the phone asking for the umpteenth time if I could hear him and if I got all the details right. He was hilarious and I indulged him a lot. So bid dropped successfully, I told him as much and he thanked me and sounded pleased.

Two or so days later, I received Mpesa of Kshs. 1,000 from him with an accompanying message;

"Chique (that’s how he spelt my name some times!) Just remembered to send u some lunch for all ua help in running my errand. Babs."

I wrote back and said thanks Baba it was not necessary but I am very grateful. I smiled.

Baba was a cool cat.

The following week, our son was hospitalized for a really case bad tonsillitis and while at the ward.

I got a call that Babs was unwell and bed ridden, after a whirlwind few days of seeking treatment we realized he suffered a massive stroke and without the life support machine he could not breathe on his own. The doctors were kind and gentle as they recommended DNR Do Not Resuscitate - breaking that news to family was one of the hardest things I had to do. That was 5 years 21 days ago.

I keep my conversations with my parents, both good and bad, in a treasure chest under lock and key.

There are a few times I open it up, remember and sometimes even talk about it. But many moments still remain unspoken....

3. My last reflection appreciating the moment, creativity and beauty around us. There is as much of this as there is evil in this world... I have a bounty of favourites; from sites, to colours, to stories, to art and many kinds of music. I change these around from time to time and actively seek to discover what else can go on the list of things I relish. I have been known to swap around my favourite colours, at the moment its purple. 

Life is too short to be so unbending, so aloof, so difficult….

And so, those are my reflections this year. 
A toast to exhaling real deep, to letting go but never forgetting and to finding and enjoying whatever gives you pleasure! Remember life is too short just a blink and its past you by....