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....


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Difret - Fighting Patriarchy One Powerful Story at a Time

I must admit, I am at a low point right this minute; my body mind and soul are screaming exhaustion and its not even 10am.

Most nights, I toss and turn at flashes of ideas, pending things in my to-do list that now haunt and occupy my dreams. I sleep late and wake up early, almost guilty for 'wasting time' resting when there is so so much to do and so little time. It sounds ridiculous and unsustainable but I am afraid that thats the current situation.

I enjoy the work I do but as we all know it is not always easy. Also, new developments! I am so happy to be back in University doing part time night classes. Even at the tail end of a busy workday my brain is absorbing everything I can - I keep having to virtually pinch myself in class to remind myself that my 16 year hiatus of studies has finally ended! I am soo excited!

More and more, into my journey of embracing feminist principles, I am in awe of how much I do not know. I have been transitioning from a default shrugging my indifference at everything, to opening my eyes widely and looking at things more deeply and thoughtfully. I am increasingly opening my mind to new ideas, to listen better and to unlearn the relics of oppressive systems that were a noose round my neck that slowly tightened.

In this discovery, I see the pervasiveness of patriarchy and other forms of oppression. I am increasingly aware of power and privilege; mine and of others. The blast of 'awareness' is daunting and overwhelming and many times it stops me in my tracks on where to begin to challenge these systems designed to keep in place the binaries of 'haves' and 'have-nots.'

Some times, I am unsure about the little voice in my head that says change has to start with me - why me?! You see my soul, body and heart and brain is constantly weary with the endless hurdles that are designed to deflate the spirits of the hardiest of souls... And the constant angst and fight for audience, for space, for resources, for air to just effing breathe! And some times that leads us to fight with ourselves, with each other...sigh...what a dizzying, spinning cycle!

And as I am contemplating these fleeting heavy thoughts I see that Difret, a movie I have been dying to watch is finally available on Netflix! I know from the trailer and the synopsis it is a familiar tale of the challenges girls and women face as we are subjugated by some of our cultures, norms and traditions. But thats not the only motivation for watching this film, I happen to know of one of the many (wonderful) people who did quite a bit to get the film off the ground...

The film is a deeply personal and moving tale that candidly delves into marriage abductions, forced marriage, societal misogyny... Difret's story is so riveting you stick through it to the end! And that emotional journey this powerful story has taken me through today has restored me and I have drawn strength from reserves I did not even know I had.

I know that many times after a thankless task of trying to shift the systems and attitudes (mine and others) towards more rights-affirming world, I feel like fighting patriarchy is like literally slamming yourself constantly on a wall...whats the point right?


Be that as it may be, we may not come out of that fight unscathed but one day that wall will crack and; a crack for me is reason enough. So that is what the film Difret has inspired me to feel today, Hope. Thank you for that.

Difret is fiscally sponsored by Truth Aid, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. All donations made to Difret’s education campaign are 100% tax-deductible. Help us take the film on the road in Ethiopia by making a donation to our rural screening tour.