The Pillow

pillows

Pillows, have been to me, at least in my adult life, a great symbol of unshakable friendship. They carry smears of your snort and tears when we’re upset. They have kept our bums warm and properly cushioned while reading for tests and exams in campus. They’re what we use to prop our backs and legs to get ourselves comfortable during sex or after a marathon. They muffle our screams during episodes of intense pain, pleasure or madness – such as during menstrual cramps, coitus, and when the asshole ex is calling and you’re fighting with everything you are not to pick up, respectively.

It therefore follows that I think it a big deal to visit a guy’s place for a few weeks and find that he bought you a swanky new pillow. The only part of this backstory that I am allowed to share (at this point) is that said guy has indicated that he likes you but he isn’t looking for a relationship. Which stings a little because we all want to feel like the sort of woman who would make any rogue fool want to change his ways and settle down. But you’ve recently ended a less-than-perfect relationship and you could do with the company.

Now, back to the pillow. First of all, you likely complained about the hard cushion that is a flimsy excuse of a pillow for a while. Secondly, it probably took him weeks to do anything about it – he likely even bought throw pillows for his couch in bright red or yellow or both just to prove that he could do what he wanted with his house – especially if he is in his 20s with a competitive point-proving spirit and a lot more money that he knows what to do with. But that is a story for another day. Lastly, the pillow is technically his. But the fact that he got one, a nice one from Dr. Mattress (or more likely, Nakumatt Lifestyle where he last bought his milk), the very fact that he got one is a big deal. Add to this that he never uses it. Even when you offer to share while you cuddle. In my mind, it means that he wouldn’t mind having you around again for a while.

Pause.

For the men reading this, you will soon realize that a lot of conversation with a woman continues to happen is her head long after you have gone quiet and walked away or hang up. For this reason, be very careful about what you say, how you say and when. Because even cynics such as my subject use actions to fill the gaps in conversation. Why? Because men are not often (if ever) big about baring their souls. So there.

This post is dedicated, first, to pillows around the world for the unconditional love that they offer and, second, to the good friend who shared this with me; because we both read so much into everything and that’s likely why we had to meet unexpectedly in the middle of the night to talk about this and so much more craziness.

To everyone else reading this, treat your pillows with a little (or a lot) more love, will you?

Empathy

So I got to the office pretty early this morning, on account of a lift from a kind neighbour, and I made it here in time to enjoy staring out our big glass windows while listening to a podcast: To Endure on TED Radio Hour. It featured three personalities, but my focus was particularly drawn to one.

Monica Lewinsky.

Past the fact that she was the White House intern whose affair with Bill Clinton was brought to light in 1998, very few of us (myself included) have failed to be empathetic towards this brave woman. Take a moment. Imagine what it’s like to work closely with someone from the office and then develop feeling for them. Say you take it to another level. Like any normal woman I know, you talk to a friend about it. Downside, your friend records the private conversations and leaks them to create one of the biggest sex scandals in American history.

Does the scenario sound plausible? Our friends and colleagues sometimes confess that they have had affairs outside of their relationships or with people in relationships. Usually, we just listen. Worst case scenario, we tell someone else. If we’re decent enough, we rearrange the details of the story so that the real owner of the story (yes, owner, because it is never in our place to share such personal details unless we have been allowed to) remains anonymous. If you’re Monica Lewinsky, you are shamed all over the world by people of all ranks and ages, your former lover denounces you on national television while referring to you as “that woman”, insulted on social media and your name (both names) become synonymous with whoring, your mother has you take showers with the day open because she is afraid that the scandal will quite literally kill you.

That last part hit me hard. Stop for a minute and imagine having to take showers with the door wide open and your parent right outside the door because neither of you is confident that all the public scrutiny you’re getting for a publicized private mistake will not push you to suicide.

So the next time you think to put up a nasty, hurtful, racist, hateful, prejudiced message about another human being, think about what you’re putting people through. Another human being like yourself. Because I am willing to bet that you are as flawed and vulnerable and hurt as we come.

Life is already hard enough, let us take minute to be kind and nice and spread a little warmth around us. Let us do what we can where we are to make the world around us a warmer and more accepting place.

Pssst!  Here’s more on Monica’s own Ted Talk, The Price of Shame, and an eye-opening article on some of the consequences of social media comments on the same featured talk,  This Is What Happened When We Posted Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Let’s spread some empathy, shall we?

About that Future…

There’s nothing as bad as getting conflicted over something that means a lot to your professional well-being while getting in the way of your personal happiness. More specifically, it stings when your romantic life suffers under the pressure of a performance contract, frequent job reviews and strict supervisors. 

Right?

I was 14 when I decided that my work would make up most of the chart that would be adult my life. I gave up any ideas of marriage and kids. That decision stayed with me. Let me pause here and indicate that we should watch what we put out into the universe. Because the universe listens and remembers.

 

Fast forward to almost 14 years later and my heart is still where it was all those ago. And little has changed with regard to the order of my priorities. Funny story, I fell in love with one amazing man through most of my 20s and the only time he broke my heart was when he left for Europe to study. So much for unlike poles attracting. I haven’t given up on love, but it feels more like a buffer for those days when work will feel more like a huge burden than a source of fulfilment.

 

Back to that thing about the universe. I’m sending out good vibes for the second half of this year. I will be consumed with work which will finally be related to what I want to focus on for the rest of the foreseeable future. I like structure. And it will feel so darn good to get back into a regular routine in a new environment!

 

Also, the writer’s block will have dissolved some and I will be bursting forth with new material and just enough time to post weekly.

Foreboding

😦

I cleared out my desk at the office today. And I don’t just mean cleaning up. I mean I packed my stuff and left just enough to carry comfortable in a handbag should I receive confirmation that my company is closing shop.

About two weeks ago, I was in the kitchen when a client stated how unfortunate it is that the business centre is closing down. Shocked, I pretended to have known my director’s plans and proceeded to promise to help with the move the best way I could. I started feeling unmotivated about going to work. Then I wanted to be at the office all the time. Then I sent an email asking for a confirmation and something solid to report back to my clients who had started to ask about the notice period.

I like to be control. All the time except for when, say, I am in the arms of a lover. So when control is taken from me, especially when I think I deserve it, I lose it. So this is the story of my life. Sending out job applications and looking for inspiration online. That and dancing so hard on the weekend I can actually sleep when I get home – hopefully without being able to think or feel anything other than fatigued on the ride home. And overstaying my welcome at friends’ places, all the while impressing them with my cooking and cleaning so they’ll be okay with having me around so long.

Now, the internet does not forget. And there’s this thing called “due diligence”. Where your future employer’s HR looks through your public history to determine employee risk, etc. I should care. Because I plan on remaining employed for a while. Yet here we are. And I promised myself that I would stop putting up a strong front.

I feel bad and I’m sharing this with people the universe has brought my way. Because one of the things that helps me get through a bad feeling or experience is the knowledge that I am not going through this alone.

Give a F88t

“Nisaidie. Sitaki pesa. Nataka chakula.”

“Help me. I don’t want money. I want food.”

Sound familiar? If you live in Nairobi, it should. But you learn to shut it out. You master how to say ” Sio leo” or “Sina leo” without even thinking about it. Not today. I don’t have (anything) today.

I’m guilty of compartmentalization. Because I may not own a television, but the news gets to me eventually. I’ve watched the videos forwarded on Whatsapp. I log into Facebook every few days. I tweet. So I know that there is a whole lot of insincerity out there. But I have also seen things which cannot be faked. Missing limbs and malformed. A little girl, lying on the sidewalk next to a sleeping adult, doing her English homework. Festering wounds.

This little boy came up to me, while I was rushing home last night, and asked for help. I ignored him and crossed the road. Then I stopped and looked back at him. His request was rather specific. He wanted food, not money.

You know how we women say you can look at someone and sense that they have a “good heart”? That’s what I felt about this kid. I called out to him and asked him whether I should buy him bread. Then the dam broke.

“Ninunulie unga.”

I wasn’t sure that he knew what he was asking for so I asked again. Same answer. Flour. Maize flour, to be exact. I’m on a shoe string budget for the rest of the month – saving for something I’ve been dying to get for several months now – so I walk around with the exact amount of cash I need to spend in a day. I feel the need to point this out because I bought this kid flour and bread with points from my Uchumi card. It felt weird that I could afford to make purchases without money while a child had left his home in the early evening to beg for money for food on account of his mother’s illness.

He offered to fill me in on the details of his day without my asking. His mother was sick so she had missed work and could not afford to buy food for him and his siblings. Now that he had flour, he needed money for vegetables and charcoal.

I stopped to look at him. Because in my comfortable quarter life crisis, I have been fussing over not being able to bake and cook three dishes at once on a four burner cooker. I have felt more than a little embarrassed about only being able to use an oven when I visit my mother or house sit for friends when they are out of town. And in this bubble I created, it was time to move into a one-bedroom apartment/flat simply because I can and I want to and these are things that twenty-something year olds do when they can afford to.

Now, imagine being twelve and watching your mother struggle to make enough to keep you and your brothers and sisters fed. You still have homework and friends and football to think about. If I can fuss over an oven, a twelve year old boy can, and should, fuss over football like any other boy his age. And in my bubble, I had completely forgotten that people will still use a jiko to cook. Or a stove. I’m talking charcoal and kerosene. Now you see why my heart sunk. My bubble has allowed me to attend university and read on the effects of different types of fuels on health.

You read about poverty. If you live in a third world country, you see it. Then you get used to it. Then you create a bubble around yourself to compartmentalize issues. This bubble allows you to think, like so many of us have, that the problem is with the politicians. Or policy. In the bubble, even the poor are to blame because they have more children than they can afford to feed and clothe and put through school. The bubble allows you to sip a drink while a conversation about that cousin from shaggz getting pregnant a third time makes its rounds at the table. Or when the help refuses to write down what she needs to prepare your family’s meals because she cannot write or read. In the bubble, there are people who fail because they don’t try hard enough and/or they are not as gifted as you are.

Then you meet a boy who lives on the same Waiyaki Way you live along. He has dreams of making something of himself. He goes to school and has never taken drugs. His mother went to school and works hard to keep him home. She remembered to tell him to ask for food and not money. She told him to put on a sweater and check before crossing the road. You live in a thankless bubble until you meet a child who could have been your son or your nephew. Then your bubble bursts until his face and voice fade behind the many faces and voices asking for help on the streets of Nairobi.

You Are Not Alone

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So 2016 began and you have never felt so alone. And right now I don’t just mean in the lacking of a go-to-guy. You’ve started to realize that you spent more than you had planned to and saved a lot less than you should have, you still dread family gatherings because some of the people you grew up around are terribly exhausting, you fell out with old friends and made new ones whose company still left that lonely-in-a-crowded room feeling you were trying to escape. You’re still at the same job you’ve sworn to leave for the past year to whoever will let you rant about it, your love life is typically non-existent, you wish you could drink to wash off the flat taste of your existence but you kinda don’t do that anymore, you’re still mean to yourself and bitter and critical of everything and everyone in your life. Even the new look is a new look on an old face you don’t even like so you only really enjoy it when people point out how “nice” you look because you are “finally growing out your hair”.

You are not alone.

I got hijacked towards the end of 2015. A stupid decision to go back to the office and look for a missing purse started me on that road. The purse was on my office chair. I ignored the urge to take a taxi to town with the friend who had brought me for company and moral support. She lost a bunch of stuff too and got hit on account of my seemingly suspicious silence. Then we got left near Mathare, practically in the middle of nowhere. I was scared out of my mind. Literally. Because I got a panic attack when we finally got help at the Moi airbase. I know there are worse feelings, but helplessness and fear have to be in the top five that exist. And regret. Upside, we came across a handful of wonderful soldiers who told funny stories and played music on their phones to help us relax. One of the best reminders that there are still good people left. They let us stay until the adrenaline dropped and we started to feel tired and cold. Thankfully, we still had our ATM cards. They gave us fare to town and hailed down a matatu which took us to the city.

Days into the new year, I was at the Mater Hospital maternity ward sharing my most secret thoughts with a girlfriend going through painful contractions. We went into the delivery room together and I witnessed the birth of Maya at 2123 hours. I spent the night at the hospital and left the following day at noon. It was the first time I had entertained the thought of having a baby for more than an hour at one go.

Then I met Oyunga Pala at an open forum he was hosting, where we talked around women and women issues, and he paid me a wonderful compliment. My week was made. I grew up reading this man’s columns. He is part of the reason why I decided to write, because he did it with such a wonderful ease. And he held you hostage from start to finish. Also, he wrote on issues affecting men and women from the perspective of men. I was oh so young and I wanted to understand men as much as I could, so Oyunga gave me some closure. I got to write my blog address in his notebook and take pictures. Again, week made.

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Last weekend, I attended a reading where my short story had been accepted at the Amka forum for a public critique. The writers of the submitted pieces remained anonymous and I listened with utter pleasure while Tony Mochama, a ruthless critic when he thinks your work is crap, praised my work for several minutes. Week made. Add to that that I had three of some of my closest girlfriends present to root for me and make it painfully awkward to sit through such lofty praises from the rest of the group.

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A good friend of mine on a Being Mary Jane bender mentioned that she wanted to put up sticky notes in her house to help her get herself together. If there is something I happen to know about not feeling like you have life figured out, it is that it can leave you feeling as if you are a waste of time. That and the sense that you are all alone; which is worse when you have been talking about going back to school for two years and two of your friends are finishing off with their Masters and a third is just starting. Which takes me back to the beginning.

You are not alone.

You will sometimes find yourself spending your time at a job you feel is only good for the paychecks. Or dealing with writer’s block for the third time in the last quarter of a year that has seen your peers put out brilliant work and get published. You will struggle to get out of bed for a while and then stop trying to get to work at all when you realize that your input is not as valued by the top management as it was in your first year at the company you work for. Even the Ted Talks will cease to help. You might stop exercising and still lose weight and feel down-in-the-dumps a lot and oscillate between overeating junk and coffee and not eating at all.

You are not alone.

Things will start to fall into place. Your close friends will start looking out for you. Or family lunches will force you to leave your bed. The house will start to get cold so you will step out for some sun and wind up buying some fruit to have with the pancakes you have been craving. You’ll be okay.

And honey, you are not alone.

Drop the mic & go find Sarah.

I finally got to talk to my girlfriend, Lily, after a long time. She left for Glasgow about a year ago and we haven’t spoken much since then. Until yesterday. We were on phone for about five hours.
In our glorious reunion, our blogs came up and Lily suggested that we write letters to our younger selves and put them up as blog posts. Brilliant idea, I thought. Then I came across this post and realized how much I did not know I needed to have known when I was younger. The fact that the author of this post is twenty seven was of particular significance to me. I’m turning twenty seven on Tuesday.
I still plan on putting something together and forging it into as candid a letter as I can write to my twenty year old self. Meanwhile, allow yourself to be inspired by this oh-so-lovely and oh-so-honest post.

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“What were you like at 20?”

Her text came through this morning in the middle of my writing hours.

I had to pause. Walk away from the computer. Find a space on the floor where, if you sit in just the right spot, the sunlight will flood through the window and cover your knees like a soft, thin blanket.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to who I was at 20 years old. That was seven years ago. I was a junior in college.

I responded to her text with a bunch of scenarios:

When I was 20, I had my first internship with the city’s newspaper. I wore high heels and strut around the campus center like I was really important— an absolute boss.

When I was 20, I was enamored with a boy who would read me Walt Whitman poetry at 2am and then take me for walks…

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