When I was nominated for this I knew it was probably going to be one of the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I thought of things to say and discarded ideas halfway. Some were too personal; some were too glossed over while some were just too stupid. I want you to picture a dead man’s fist. How tightly the fingers coil upon the palm. How dark the space between the fingers. How guarded. How twisted. I am that hand. Not dead, just dark, twisted and guarded. But I have to start somewhere
I will start at the beginning. The time when I lived as a cross between a boy and a girl.
When I think of my early years the only thing I wanted to become when I grew up was my brother. He was older and I looked up to him. I studied the way he rode his bike and rode just like him. I watched wrestling just like he did and even stole his marbles (bano) and became one of the best marbles ‘pushers’ of my age group. At one time I think my marble collection rivalled his (Probably because he had stopped playing since he is six years older).
The difference between me and him came when I had to get my hair done. I hated being squeezed between the thick thighs of the estate hairdresser while she braided row upon row of my dumu zas hair. I would wonder at what my brother was up to while I was being tortured and lay dying because of holding my breath for too long. Sometimes when my mind strayed too much the lady would hit me with the wooden comb to make me behave. That usually ended with me inhaling which was not something you wanted to do when you are eight and stuck between a woman’s thighs. There was a compromise though, I could be stuck in this death grip for half a day but I wouldn’t touch my hair for the next month or so. This taught me compromise and delayed gratification.
Apart from the salon trips I was basically amorphous. Some days I was more of a boy, going fishing for tadpoles and swimming in ponds while other days I made my mom teach me knitting and crocheting. That was until puberty hit. For most people the transition is seamless. For me it was HARD! I hated every moment of it. I felt like choice had been taken from me. Why would God allow me to have my own choice for about fourteen years then take it away? Even as a kid I loved to be in control of my own decisions. But here I was flying blind.
So, I did find a way to minimise this tragedy. I would wrap a piece of cloth around my chest until it appeared flat against my uniform then wear jean shorts under the dress to camouflage my hip arear. A huge sweater would go on top as an invisibility clock. It worked well for a while but it eventually became awkward to do some things with all those clothes. When I was just getting a hang of this new me the story of how a woman should behave kicked in. Suddenly all the guys I would play police and robbers with had become too macho to see my point of view. Then it became news if I stood with a guy for more than ten minutes. The innocence of being ‘just friends’ suddenly took on a new meaning.
I retreated into a favourite pass time which was books. I read everything in our house. From the lyrics on the back of tapes to the reader’s digest my dad collected. I started to enjoy my own company more and more. Until it was the only thing I knew how to do.
The first time I benefited from being a woman was when I wanted to change my course in first year. Seated across the dean with my papers stretched towards him I waited with bated breath for his decision. A few minutes after perusing my papers, he stamped and signed the form and on top in huge letters wrote “because she is a girl”. If I was a boy I would have missed the chance by half a mark.
So yes, it is because I am a girl that I write this. I spent so many years dreaming of my amorphous years. Not because I hated being a girl but because being a girl came with so much restriction. Because when you are weird and have tits, it is just harder for you. This is me saying, I am still getting a hang of being a girl.
I have a weird recurring nightmare about my worst date.
I would walk into the restaurant clutching my handbag on one hand and my coat on the other. I would probably call my date to pinpoint the exact location he would be seated. Hopefully next to a window. The warm orange walls and hushed banter would be a welcome thing from the hooting and shouting of cars and hawkers. The tasteful artwork would distract me for a moment as I reminisced about the chances I did not take in art school. Tottering to the table with the date I would appreciate the comfortable seats. Not those dainty glass looking chairs that cannot support an African derrière(too much wedding shows). My date would be seated with his back to me giving me a chance to appreciate his shoulders and manly profile. I would sit across from him catching a whiff of his musky cologne and I would be glad I had come.
Glancing at the clock I would probably say something like
“Traffic wasn’t bad today”. He would grant his reply and I would try with utmost difficulty to stop my eyes from rolling to the back of my skull.
I should have just commented on the weather, probably said something clever like
“It’s a cook house out there today.” But that wouldn’t be a good idea since Mr. No face would have his shirt buttoned to the throat with his tie secured tightly around it like a hangman’s noose.
I would proceed to hang my jacket on the back of my seat enough time to roll my eyes to kingdom come then I would turn back to face the date ready for the ordeal to begin.
At this particular moment, I probably would be 35 years old and the pastor in my church would have seen it prudent to set me up with brother Jeremiah. That would be the guys name. Can you imagine a Ruth and a Jeremiah? What would we do steal Naboths land? But he is the pastors choice so I would sit-down dreaming of quenching my thirst with a tall glass of something cold. The first thing staring at me from the menu camel milk. I would flip to another page to be met by the dream drink of the century. A minty pineade. I start having a vision of the drink. Tall sweaty glass stirred to perfection with lots of crushed ice. My parched throat would constrict thinking of it.
Mr. No face would look at me and without batting an eyelash would say,
“I have already ordered.”
I would try to quell the words “Good for you” but I probably would be tired from wherever I was coming from and the hot sun. Then I would think of the drink and would add a smile instead.
“I have ordered for both of us”, he would add impatiently.
Shock. Alarm. Breath.
“Oh ok!” I Smile then I put the menu down and await the order.
After about thirty minutes the food would arrive. Yes, there would be no tall drink first. In front of me will be placed Spaghetti Bolognese with the reddest sauce you have ever seen. The waiter will then place a spoon next to me and order, “EAT!” And the guy would start to laugh hysterically his face coming slowly to focus.
In Real life, my dates are not so scary. They are weird but never scary.
Take for example this particular one I went to last year. Don’t judge me for what I am about to say. Ok! you can judge me a little.
I usually don’t like dates. Too many hours spent getting ready only to be disappointed. Usually, it is the conversation that is as dull as dishwater. Other times it is just because it is exhausting to put up a front. Let me rephrase that. I love the prospect of potentially free food (depends on how manly the date wants to show himself to be) I just don’t like the expectations that come with it.
So, on this hot September afternoon, I am standing at archives waiting for said guy. Dates that starts at Archives are never successful dates unless of course, you finish with a boat ride in Uhuru park. On this day, hades had a crack and the heat spewed on earth. The sort of day you would rather go swimming even though the only thing you may be able to do is jump from the deep end over and over again. And no it is not because of some suicidal thoughts. Probably because its practicing for bungee jumping that is somewhere on the bucket list. But you said you will be here. And the scouts motto says always honor your promises. Of course, Yours truly is totally being fried, burned to crisp thanks to an abundance of melanin.
I was early, he wasn’t late.
We zigzag to the eatery in the heart of Nairobi city. I finally realised why women should always choose the restaurant but I just want to get out of the sun and his ancestors. Claustrophobia is kicking in. The nearest window is a gazillion light years away, blocked by this mammoth of a man and his brood. I start to breathe heavy but I cannot say that I need the window. I need to see outside my mind screams or to smell the polluted Nairobi air. I need bloody air!
The waitress takes one look at me and says They do have a place upstairs if we would like to go there. I immediately shuffle to my feet and rush to the stairs. Thank God there are windows and lots of space. There is something off about the place, though. Something I can’t put my hands on. A different waitress comes to the table.
Menu is out, I grab mine for common courtesy (see this are the things I was talking about?) then just say
“I will have fries.”
A friend of mine once told me if you are in a place where you don’t’ know what to order just go with fries.
“Fries are the only sure bet when you go to a not so uhm good place. Order dried not those masala things.”
According to her masala is usually left over fries. Those half plates you see people carrying to the kitchen? Yes, those ones. They are just dropped into a big pot and stirred with tomatoes and chilli and voila!
As the waitress turns to leave my eyes are drawn to the posterior. Lawd! The woman has nothing but a loin cloth. I look around. There are different beauties scattered around the place. All in a certain form of undress, because there is absolutely no way they are dressed. I am talking women with asses from her to Timbuktu man. Covered with pieces of Ankara looking loin clothes as they swarmed every section I look around and I am probably the only girl in the world/ room; a really overdressed girl in a vest and a pair of blue jeans.
Can I just say it was the hardest date that guy has ever had? I have never been so invested in eye contact as I was that day. My irises hurt just thinking about it.
We live in a society where we love ignoring symptoms. When a disease manifests then we talk, we act, we thump our chests and bellow at the top of our voices. That is what we do when we see victims and perpetrators of Rape. We need to understand that sometimes there is a cycle. It starts at one point and continues with no checks and balances. To break the cycle, we must first break some Rape culture that we have cultivated. Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture states that rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . Meaning, there are things in everyday life that we do that directly or indirectly contributes to Rape.
What are they?
Saying Women are Indecisive.
We are lead to believe that a Woman’s No is never really a No. It is so ingrained in society that you might find parents encouraging boys to make decisions for their sisters. We hear of boyfriends getting mad at their girlfriends because they have refused to have sex when they want to. Listen, women are entitled to change their minds as often as they like. It is perfectly ok to want something now and change your mind 60 seconds later. That does not in any way change your No into a Yes, it simply states that he should wait until you say yes. A maybe is not a yes or a No. It is simply a “Wait until I make up my mind”. Being ‘Indecisive’ is not necessarily a bad thing and most importantly it does not entitle you to rape a woman.
Downplaying by Media and society
The media when reporting on Rape will talk about non-consensual sex. They gloss over Rape and turn it into something palatable to the society. Rape is not sex, don’t gloss it over, there is nothing like non-swallowing, you are either swallowing or choking. In the same way, there is sex or Rape, there is nothing in between. In Kenya, I rarely hear of convictions. People just walk away scot free. In the US Broc Turner – a 20-year-old swimmer from Stanford- was given 6 moths because “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Aaron Persky said. We are a society that constantly think of the future of the rapist rather than the future of the victim. Infact, the first reaction people turn to when faced with rape is usually doubt.
The concept that Boys will be Boys.
I doubt that rapists are born. I am very convinced they are made. They are made by you and me, by society. When we are growing up and a boy in class starts to beat you or be mean, we are always told it is because they like us. How wrong is it that a boy will show he likes you by hitting you? So this boy grows up into a fine young man who when he likes a woman he just hits her or sexually violates her. That is how he has been taught to express his love. Why do we teach our kids one thing then expect them to turn out different?
Dressing is to blame.
The most annoying thing about rape is the fact that we always go back to what the victim was wearing. Apparently, a victim has to wear the clothes they wore during the ordeal in a court of law to ascertain if they deserved to be Raped. Listen, what we are saying when we judge a victim by dress code is that Rapists have no self-control. Don’t tempt them because you know they can’t help themselves. This doesn’t make sense, especially when we think of two-month-old babies being victims. Did the rapist see the provocative diaper and couldn’t control himself? What about those 70-year-old grandmothers covered up to their ankles?
See why this does not hold water?
Cat calls and complaints of the friend zone.
How many times do you hear boys or just grown ass men whistling when a beautiful lady passes by? It happens all the time and the problem is that women have been led to believe that it is ok for this to happen. Woe unto the woman if she responds negatively. She will be verbally abused and called all sorts of names. The fact that you have to answer positively to someone else’s sexual awareness of you is part of the problem which brings us to the friendzone. We have heard how men complain of being put in the friendzone as if all relationships have to be sexual. Why are you lurking in the corners badgering a woman to get you off the friend zone? Why did you agree to be her friend in the first place? Was it to just leer at her and wonder when you will sleep with her?
It is because deep down you have been led to believe that women are good for one thing, which is sex. So, you have to bitch about all the time she has refused your advances and ignore the fact that she said NO! Why? Was the No not good enough? Did the No suddenly change into a yes and she didn’t know it? Chances are that if left in a secluded place with said woman, you would probably rape her.
Not acknowledging that Rapists have a choice, Victims don’t.
We should stop the narrative that rape victims have a choice. In a rape situation, the perpetrator has two options, to walk away or to find a less that 20-minute gratification. Each time they take the gratification. It is not about the dress code, it is more about the power he has at that particular moment. The need to take advantage of someone who is powerless or unconscious or defenseless. So, stop having classes on how women should dress and have classes of how men can practice self-control. Stop saying that men are sexual creatures, no one is purely a sexual creature. There is more than just sex. But if we raise our kids with the notion that men cannot control their sexual urges then what we are saying is if you want sex, take sex, it is what you were built for. How shallow is that? Why is it that women should feel less safe walking the streets at night than men do. Is it because at night all men turn into beasts?
Steph argues that men are raped on a daily too. That rape is just not limited to one gender. I do agree with this, However, the rate men are raped is much lower than the rate women and children are subjected to it. Which only proves that this is more a game of power and contempt.
In conclusion, We need to agree that rape culture is the symptom before the bank breaks. You can’t wake up one day and be a rapist. There are events leading up to it. We as the society need to look closely at these symptoms and attack them one by one. First, teach the young girls that when a girl says no, it is a No, Teach respect to the younger boys and above all teach them self-control. It is a long bumpy road, but we need to take it if we are to eliminate the monster that is Rape and Rape culture.
I have a throne section in my house for African writers. I put my greatest reads on this section and wait for a dethroning. Well, the Whispering trees just dethroned most African books I have read so far. Have you ever read a short story collection so good you had to purchase another book by the author? That is what happened to me. The beauty is that it is not just one or two stories that are good, it is the WHOLE collection.
The book starts with Twilight and Mist a story of Ohikwo who on the eve of his 32nd birthday meets someone who claims to be his mother. There is just one problem with this claim, the woman didn’t look older than seventeen. But if she is not his mother, how does she know everything about him? Intriguing?
Not as Intriguing as the book title The whispering Trees. Here a young man, Salim, has his dreams of becoming a doctor shattered when he is involved in an accident. In a blink of an eye, he loses his sight, his fiancée and his purpose for living. Just when he thinks he has lost everything he develops a gift that lets him realize that “happiness lies, not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you have.”
The book weaves through other lovable and hateful characters, From the beautiful housewife infatuated with her garbage man in The Garbage man, to two medicine men tasked with saving their village from a plague that ravages their village in Cry of the witch.
This collection is pure gold with characters that jump at you from the pages and breathe your own air. It weaves African beliefs and modern-day life in a beautiful yet simple way that you experience every moment with your heart in your throat( not literally). You have a touch of political oppression in one story then
There is a touch of political oppression in one story then you are swept in a wave of magical realism in the next leaving you breathless with every page. You will peel layers upon layers in these stories finding hope in some and in others accepting death as the natural check of everything good and evil. You will wonder at the decisions of some characters gauging them to your own and will probably applaud the courage of some of the characters.
Shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing 2013 and longlisted for the Etisalat Prize for prose 2014 this book promises entertainment, Life lessons and a place in the throne room. We thank God for Abubakar the award-winning writer and his command of the written art.
I know that I am not a woman of my word. I promised that I will be writing to you on a weekly basis. This promise should have never escaped my lips had I known that I would not honor it. My girl, it cannot be helped that I went against my word. I was busy my little girl. Well, I cringe when I say that to justify my wrongs. The word BUSY has a very negative connotation especially to people you love or claim to. Therefore it hurts me to truthfully claim that I was busy and by being in this state, shelved the need to write to you about Life and Love of this world. If it is of any comfort, I want to briefly inform you that I have now gone back to school. And to answer your question, yes I am not that old to learn. If what you are studying gives you shrieks of orgasmic delight, as well as illuminating your future, then I tell you that it is worth its salt.
By the time you will be reading this, we will probably have relocated to a foreign country. My dreams of being a diplomat will have come true, and like Mukhisa Kituyi, a man I hold in reverence, I will be working with people around the world in solving global problems. I inform you all this because you are my daughter and my rock. In doing this, I hope to pacify you and also share with you my dreams, achievements and hopes. If my dreams put a little fire in your heart, if my achievements warm your soul, then it makes me a happy mother. I know that I have been wearing several hats lately. Apart from being your dear mother, I am an employee and a student.So I put all these down for a moment so that I can be of counsel to you. Do you forgive me for my being busy?
I do not remember where I left at when I lastly wrote you a letter. It was just the other day when my friends were talking about my GREAT LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTER as we did coffee. Mostly, they invented sarcastic jokes about these letters. I really have sarcastic male friends.To them, my letters to you are the raw materials to their pun industry. One of them, with a very handsome smile, suggested that he will also start writing letters to his son. I will share the link when he does. (When you are of age of course). I like to think that his letters will be a cause for laughter. We will read those parody letters and then use the good laugh, probably hi-fiving in the middle of it. Then there is this other man whose duty in life is to champion the misinterpretation of my sentences and utterances. He also loves to joke about cows. Once he has destroyed my speech, he further stretches his laughter by promising to bring cows at our home place Mbooni. Someone must have told him that as Kamba we love cows especially as bride price. You see my girl, marriage is a calling and some of us didn’t get the call or we got a missed called only to find the phone mteja when we tried calling back. Some claim it is a material, I think mine was stolen or got burned or something. This doesn’t mean I can’t give it a try if one day I meet prince charming who will make me his queen because he will be my King. A lioness because he will be my lion…Haha.
It is fun knowing that as much as I digress; you will still find the letter enjoyable, especially the part where I inform you that I am now officially Scholar Esther Wavinya. And yes, as a scholar, I have a field I specialize in.And yes, I have new discoveries in the same field. As a scholar, I coin words like DTR for example. (Oscar Mutie will laugh at my ‘scholar manenoz’. He simply thinks that I am not a scholar because he is under ‘LMP’ Anyway, let us leave the LMP’s to their devices. I will tell you what LMP means in my next letter my daughter.) Back to my discovery. DTR. D for define, T for the, and R for relationship. In simple terms my girl I simply ask you to be prudent enough to define your relationships.
During one of my coffee dates, I met this man, charming and intelligent; and therefore, as it happens with birds of a feather, we found ourselves discussing grand ideas. We debated on the Kantian Synthetic theory, we debated on nihilism and its place in the society, the conflict between science and the church and many others. It is when I was about to mention the 48 laws of power when I noticed that the man had gone mum. He simply watched me, biting his lips and screwing his eyes. When I met his eyes, I knew that there was something about MATTERS OF THE HEART that he wanted to ask me. And there it was! He asked me whether I was single or in a relationship. I fumbled for and stumbled against words trying to answer his question. At first I told him that I didn’t know. The man continued to watch me, saying nothing. I felt trapped. I told him to rephrase the question and he did, stating that he was a staunch believer of YES or NO philosophy. So finally I told him that I was not in a relationship although I went for coffee dates. I am technically single I said.
Baby girl, as an individual and a human being you are a unique entity. As an entity you need to have individual interests rationally written down in your diary or personal note book. My child, it is mandatory to have life principles to live by especially in your love life. These Individual interests will help you know what you want, how you want them, and what to do if your interests are not met. You will also be immune from those people who have awards in manipulating others. My daughter, if you live a life without principles, anger will be your ally. It is the most volatile form of emotion you can ever burden yourself with. It harms and ruins, making you a fickle creature. I would dream of you in such a state my child.
So when is the right time to DTR? You see, at one point in your life you might find yourself in a tight situation whereby your pals will ask you about the man you have been hanging out with for several months. The question will be worrying as you will wonder what you are doing, and end up answering,
“Well…sort of…I mean, we’re not really seeing, seeing each other we’re just seeing each other. Do you know what I mean?”
The caprices of wanting your relationship to work will then grip you. How will you know that it is just a fling, a friend with benefit or a relationship or an Affair? You need to know my child. Having lived in this world for so many years, I have come to realize that ladies suffer emotionally because they hoped for a relationship only to realize it was a FWB. They cry the whole Atlantic Ocean regretting why they said no to date 2 0r 3 or 4. My daughter, it is a crazy world out here.
As a rule of thumb, my girl, if you are having sex with someone, it is better to have some form of the DTR conversation soon(ish), to manage expectations. More so of you get clues that you and your sexual partner are not on the same page. You see, if you sow expectations, you will reap disappointments. If you haven’t tabled your desires, you will get trampled on. Baby girl, it is better to be honest about how you are feeling than to hide it and end up hurt or disappointing one another because you had different ideas about the nature of your relationship.
Anyway baby girl, it is good to define the relationship especially if you have gone out for a couple of dates and you want to know your stand with this person so that you can cut out other suitors. You really don’t want to be seeing other people do you? But if you’re not seeing anyone else, and you’re seeing a lot of each other, what on earth is it if it’s not a relationship? It has always been said that DTR is TTD (tough to do). My girl, DTR could lead to either a beautiful or catastrophic future. I know we all don’t want to pressure our partners but at the same time we don’t want to commit to someone who doesn’t offer commitment either. Do we? No matter how ball-shrinking terror the conversation on DTR will instill in a man’s heart, a woman who is unsure of what is happening should ask the question. Are we at the same page my girl? It is always good to be sure where you are going my daughter. Don’t walk blindly. Don’t follow someone blindly because this will spell out tragedy. You will be turned into a whiner. This is the reason why some women label men dogs yet they didn’t DTR.
My daughter, always knows, if you haven’t had the exclusivity talk, then don’t jump into conclusion and assume things. This will only lead you to getting hurt. This is a recipe for resentment. And here is where I make my stop adorable child. Till my next letter.Chao!