Petty Pity Party

I’m a petty person. I like people, but I also like my personal space. I’ve made friends with people who, like me, enjoy your company only so much before they start to hope that you’ll go away so they can breathe easier, walk around the house naked, sleep across the bed diagonally, not think about cooking or doing the dishes right away. But this is not about them. This is about me. And how I am the type of person to ask a guy to drop me home when we’re done getting our groove on because I like my bed that much.

I am a petty person. I like to cook in my kitchen because I’m convinced that it’s my comfort zone and where I can create magic with the greatest ease. I like my floor rags exactly where they are right now every single day. These towels hold my feet and keep them warm and happy. My bed and I have an actual relationship because it’s one of the only places where I can be my real, vulnerable, small self. Not literally because I’m 5 feet 7, but you get the point. My bed is the only place where I feel better when I simply lie down and breathe. I like my shower because I walk in there barefoot and don’t stop to think about dirt or germs. That’s where I take long showers to ease me of bad feelings, menstrual cramps, fatigue, emotional beat-downs, the fear of having done too little with my life. I fall in love with the little studio that is my home every time I catch the sun’s rays streaming through my windows and when, like earlier this morning, I watch the rain fall steadily over the field overlooking my front door.

I am a petty person because I am particular about everything I count as my personal space. I don’t like to be touched unnecessarily, I’m still learning how to cuddle and I prefer to sleep alone. I like to sit in the dark and listen to music, I am convinced that you can either be friends or neighbours, not both, and I can only enjoy the company of people I love in doses. A few months ago, I made friends with a young man who is a lot like me: neat, organized, picky. He also likes to run, he eats well and enjoys his music, work and personal space. This guy admitted to me that people like us are bothersome to others. He has accepted that he does not know how to live with people. It then came to me that although this is different, it is also okay. Like male feminists and couples that choose not to have children or people who decide to remain unmarried. It’s different, but it’s okay.

Does that still make me petty? Yes. What it also does is make me more accepting of myself and my quirks. I made huge strides in accommodating those whose habits are completely different as mine. Even while I grind my teeth on account of the breadcrumbs begging to be swept off a floor, screaming children on a sugar high, pictures on a wall which aren’t properly aligned, dust bunnies under a friend’s bed, food served on a wet plate, a sticky table at my favourite coffee shop, that person taking up some of my seat space on a bus ride… The list goes on and on. But I am learning how to pick my battles. Sometimes I do great. At other times, I lose it and make a smart ass remark to make you aware of just how petty I am.

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Tips for Travel: The Coast

I had the pleasure of traveling to the coast of Kenya – Diani, to be specific – and I kept scribbling down important points which came to me while on my trip. I figured they’d come in handy for my next trip. And for whoever would read this and find it useful. Almost 2 weeks after my return to the capital, I decided against putting up this post. Then a chat with a friend who feels inspired to emulate my intentional, planned and saved for trips convinced me otherwise.

So here we are. I promise I’ll try not to bore you.

  1. Listen to your gut – about what to pack, what to leave, what to unpack, what to repack – because you will usually discover that your instincts were right all along. For me, this time, it was the urge to carry my bulky and not-at-all-cool-looking sleeping bag. It turned out to come in handy two of the nights we (my travel buddy and I) spent at a cottage a walking distance away from the beach. Because it got a little windy at night. So listen to your gut. Charge your power bank. Pack your USB cable. Bring a book – on soft copy and a hard copy. Get that neck pillow for the long bus ride.
  2. Travel light. As much as possible, pack as little as you can. My rule is to only pack what my backpack can carry – with the exception of my sleeping back, of course. This rule applies within reason, of course. Because a backpack will not likely last you a month-long trip to another continent. Unless you’re hiking. Or back packing.
  3. Have a budget, factor in miscellaneous costs, stick to the budget. It feels great to be able to spend while on holiday without worrying about how much money you will have left for transport and groceries when you get back home. Save a little every month for travel. Factor in costs such as public transport fares, souvenirs, snacks and the just-in-case accommodation fee should you fail to check in to your hotel in time. For instance, there was an issue with our online booking so we were double booked. This meant taking another bus, 2.5 hours later than scheduled, spending 10 hours on the road instead of the anticipated 8, and arriving several hours past the intended time. We wound up having to stay a night on the north coast because we couldn’t make it across the ferry at almost 11:20 p.m. WhatsApp Image 2017-07-04 at 15.55.03
  4. Split your cash. I like to have more of my money on my phone – more specifically on M-pesa, a mobile based money transfer service commonly used and accessed in Kenya.  Should I happen to lose my phone, I would simply replace my sim card and use another mobile phone to access my cash. Still, one does need to be a little liquid when traveling. A rather handy tip I got from my travel buddy was to break down my cash into small denominations and spread the cash around – in different pockets and in my purse. This really helped when we used public transport to get around and when we made purchases from street food vendors and kiosks.
  5. Pack using an actual list. Because it sucks to realize that you forgot something as basic and as important as underwear, a swimsuit, body lotion, sunscreen, etc.
  6. Carry a sleeping bag and a clean sheet. I don’t like to be cold. Ever. Not as long as I can help it. Less than a month before my trip, I spent one night at a campsite in the middle of the cold Maasai Mara conservancy while cursing myself for failing to bring my (very light) water bottle for the trip. Yet I had a ride to and from my house! In short, it was a looooong night.
  7. Bring your own flip flops. Because you never know whether you’ll find them on the ground. Also, if you have large flat feet like mine, you almost always need your own flip flops.
  8. Wear a pair of comfy flats and carry a spare pair. Bata Ngomas are my favourite shoes for any occasion. They are flat shoes, made of actual absorbent fabric (like a mixture of cotton and corduroy or khaki) with a rubber sole. And they come in different colors! WhatsApp Image 2017-07-04 at 15.47.12
  9. Beware of pick-pockets! Travel in comfortable pants with good/deep pockets for your loose change or earphones or gum or iPod/cellphone. Tying a hoodie or sweater around your waist and over your pockets is one way to make your stuff harder for pickpockets to access.Also, always have a clear view of your backpack zipper and carry it on your front when on a crowded street or when making a mad rush for the ferry.
  10. Travel in great company. This should have probably been the next point after the one about budgeting for the trip. Bring a fun, street smart, fun travel buddy along and plan with them well in advance of time (if you can). So I had planned for this trip with someone who could not make it at the last minute – they got dates mixed up and had a load of fieldwork to do far out of town. So I call an old girlfriend who has traveled to remote parts of the country for fieldwork and she was excited to come along, thankfully. When we arrived in Mombasa, it was almost midnight and vehicles were few. My travel buddy was able to help me negotiate a fair cab  (more like tuk tuk) fare and she had someone on the ground to accommodate us for the night at a discounted fee because she refers people to his guest house. Throughout the trip, I kept thanking her and God for making my vacation much more fun than it would have been had I traveled solo. WhatsApp Image 2017-07-04 at 15.40.42
  11. Plan for your meals and buy lots of snacks for in between. Always make a point to know whether meals are served at your hotel/cottage, how much a standard meal would cost and what the timings are for all the meals served. Then ensure you stock up on snacks – nuts, crackers, fruit like apples and bananas, yoghurt, etc – to help keep your energy levels up and for those days when you want to sleep in and skip on breakfast or when you would rather a light dinner of your own choosing.
  12. Buy lots of bottled water. Better more than less, because water is life and dehydration or lacking access to clean drinking water while traveling can go horribly wrong. Depending on where you are going, and how sensitive you are to stomach bugs, you may need to have bottled water for brushing your teeth. So always stock up.

    I know I went on and on, but I hope it worth the read. Travel safe and happy vacationing!

Existentialist Crisis?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that count in life. Because I’ve been thinking about the brevity of life a whole lot, of late. Somehow, I want to have a child, but only if I’m sure that I’ll be around to raise her. One of my neighbours passed away recently. I made friends with her daughter, recently. She’s not older than six, but is already very kind and protective of her little brother – he learned how to walk recently and is always trying to get passed her and out the gate whenever someone’s getting into or out of the compound. Their mom was in her mid thirties when she died and left a husband and three little kids behind. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

I’ve been working hard to clear my student loan. Which is something I should have taken more seriously before – the amounts I was paying and not just the consistency I brag about. But regret is useless and I’ve learnt my lesson. Somehow, I got to thinking that if I died, I’d want to have paid back my student loan so someone else won’t miss out on it because I felt my already good life needed more stuff.

One of the older consultants at the office lost her mother. As I reread her tribute today, all I could think was what I’ve been thinking since the funeral: How do you match that? Everyone talked about what a good listener she was. How much she loved dancing. That she fought for the rights of others. That she cared for children. That she gave until there was barely anything left, then she’d figured out ways to make sure that there was more to give. I want that legacy. Now I see why our consultant is always giving. Kind words, a smile, good stories, gifts, time, encouragement. I want to have that legacy and what I want more is to pass that on to someone.
My own mother has already built a track record in her career as a civil servant, a youth mentor, Christian guide, boys club runner and mother. People meet me and tell me how she came through for them and it fills me with awe. And a little anxiety. Because what am I doing with my life? I don’t volunteer anymore, I’m not really making time for my hobbies, I don’t make much time for my friends, I don’t even like going to church anymore. There’s no more passion. Not much writing, barely any reading, cooking to eat and stay alive, jogging to meet my FitBit targets. It’s really quite sad.

I have a problem with postponing joy. It’s the reason why I almost didn’t go for every fun thing I managed to do – the weeklong holiday in Arusha, the long weekend in Diani with new friends, zip lining over Easter. Add falling in love and moving out to that list too. I’ve been living with the arrogant expectation of waking up to find it all waiting for mw the following day, week, month and year.

I need to finally take on something new and exciting so I can feel alive for longer than a few hours or days. More than a big purchase or weekend away. More than a good read or night out. I feel the need to give myself the chance to rediscover the things that give me fulfillment and joy. I need to start giving in and giving up more of myself.

Guys, I need to start living again. So I’m drawing up a list and working through it, beginning with the little things.

It’s kinda late as I type this and I’m counting down the hours before it’s time to wake up, but let me sleep on it.

The Writing Journey – 2015, 2016, 2017 Highlights

I have a lot to be grateful for. Usually, when I start a post or conversation like this it is as an attempt at channeling some frustration in my personal life. So what I really want to say, aside from how glad I am that this year has gone better than I had though it would, is that I am learning (ever so slowly) how to focus on what is actually working for me.

When I was younger, I dreamed big literary dreams. I imagined myself telling stories of civil war from an insider’s angle. I actually imagined myself traveling to different parts of the world to expose the happenings therein amid gunfire, mass displacements of entire communities and widespread fear. Then I grew up and simply wrote stories which I tucked away in notebooks, then later on Facebook, and finally on my blog.

Today, I would like to celebrate how far my dreamy tales have come – from the fourteen year old dreamer who signed off her make belief newspaper articles as Christiane Amanpour to the just concluded Nairobi leg of the Jalada Festival.

I will let the screen shots speak for themselves

pictory 1

pictory 2

pictory 3

Friendly Fire

Road Trip

StoryMoja 2015

FREE FALL

“Hello Claire.”

“David?”

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

“Yes. No use in lying. I’m predictable”

“Yet I couldn’t predict this.”

Neither did. I no longer know what to do with myself around you and we have been friends for fifteen years. You made me comic strips and let me copy your Math homework. I read your English compositions, wide-eyed with wonder because your stories were something out of this world; fluidly worded and intriguing. You were the lanky, awkward boy who cared nothing for my unkempt hair and flat chest.

“Could I get a blank pass?”

“That’s what you want, Claire? To ignore what happened and not bring it up again?”

Maybe if I lower my voice a little it will not come off as dismissive.

“Nothing really happened, David…”

“That’s not at all as I remember it…”

“Stop. Please.”

There’s no denying that things are still awkward, but I need to stop replaying the feel of my dress getting slipped off my body and my hands tugging at your belt before your cell phone rang. 

“The way I see it, there’s nothing to say that we can’t figure out without words. I got tipsy…”

“We.”

“What?”

We got tipsy.”

We got tipsy, a big mistake was almost made, your phone rang. The universe spared us a lot of trouble.”

“Fine. This isn’t it, though. You know that, right?”

“The rule is that a blank pass means we don’t bring it up again. We’ll live through the weirdness and life will go on.”

“That simple?”

“Yes, David. That simple.”

“I disagree. I won’t be able to help you zip up or down without taking you back to Saturday night. You will stop taking wine around me for a while and hide your favourite black dress in a box. You will not be able to stand too close to me, so you will stop offering to help with my tie. The jokes about my belt buckles will also stop.

“Is that all?”

“No. Then there’s Laura. You will not want to be in the same room with her, even when it’s while I’m on phone with her. I will try to make you feel better, in vain. I’ll call you in a few weeks, after you’ve started picking my calls again, and we’ll have a drink on your balcony. Only because I will show up at your door when I’m sure that you’re in. You’ll change out of your little shorts as soon as I step into your living room, I won’t be allowed to help in the kitchen, and you will be annoyed when I try to make eye contact. Then I will try to look at you, to really look at you, because I will also be masking that lingering question: What if? Until then, I left you at Brew Bistro at 10.30 p.m. just before Victor arrived. Now I’m done.”

I want to stop you from leaving, but I cannot find my words today.

P.S. This last piece, Free Fall, got me selected for the Nairobi Jalada master classes which took place a week ago.

 

The Mrs.

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Recently, someone spotted me doing the dishes at a  hangout with people who fall in that “more than business associates but less than close friends” category and she blurted out:

“You’re typical wife material.”

I’ve always detested that statement. Long before Chimamanda Ngozi came into our lives and reminded us that marriage, though lovely and good, is not something that women (or men) should aspire to.

Everyday, I am learning that being different in this regard is frowned upon. Try mentioning publicly that you do not want children even though you like them (worse still if you don’t) or that you do not have any plans or intentions of ever getting married. You will literally start to feel the temperature in the room rise or fall.

Back to the story…

I walked away from this well-meaning human being with a tight smile creasing my face, drying my hands on my jeans because I was fuming. It was so bad I wrote down a rant on my commute home and (sort of) finished it while dinner simmered on the cooker.

“Settling down sounds a lot to me like bringing a speeding car to grinding halt. The phrase makes me think of a pacifier, sticky with saliva, which you put into the mouth of a fussy baby to make it quiet down so you can attend to other important things.
So when someone tells me that I’m typical wife material because I enjoy cooking and have been socialized to accept certain gender roles (especially those of women as home makers), when you assume I’d make a good wife because I clean to clear my head and because my finances have been in order all my adult life, or because I, in spite of my city upbringing, do not drink (even wine), know how to talk to children and do not shy away from dirty diapers and serving friends’ relatives at family functions I have been invited to as a guest, when you casually drop that seemingly wonderful statement, understand why I get squeamish.

Essentially, in my own eyes, I become the woman a man settles for after he is tired or bored from dating and sleeping around with the fun girls who smoke and drink Tusker or Guiness. I am the brakes forcing a man out of his youthful recklessness. I am the new box of Kericho Gold tea or the white bitter Mara Moja tablets in the palm of his hand which he will take to relieve himself of a bad hangover. I am the chewy teat-shaped piece of rubber in the mouth of a babe who needs to stop fussing about “those other women” – the kind he feels he cannot take back home to his mother – so his parents will approve and attend his wedding genuinely overjoyed and easily expect to be visited on weekends and have their grandchildren raised in a Christian home. This wife, in my mind, is simply someone to bear a man’s name and bring forth other carriers of his name so his lineage will not be cut off.”

The summary of the rest of this rant is coming to as I type this as follows:

My Christian upbringing causes me to be look upon marriage with a hallowed awe. Even though I had considered it momentarily because of my own issues – including loneliness and convenience and that creeping influence of a “why not?” mentality when surrounded by “people who are doing it”, moving in with a romantic partner felt like, and still feels like, a misguided attempt at something good. Like good intentions carried out in an improper manner, so to speak. This, I must point out, is my opinion based on my beliefs. Yet I am almost thirty and still enjoying the warming glow of the sanctity of marriage from afar. I was raised by and around strong women who worked for what they had without the expectation of support from a man even when it was present. Four of the most influential presences in my life are single or divorced or in their second marriages with very open-minded partners. I dated one man, a wonderful partner who respected me and treated me like a friend and an equal more than anything else. So in my mind, single motherhood is more normal that marriage.

The funny part is that I picture myself getting married when I am older and wiser and more settled, myself. Since nature will not allow me the luxury of having children then, I would rather plan for her/them now so that my new role as a wife and partner will not be too muddled.

Happy Sad Memories

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I’m nursing another sore throat. As far as I can recall, I used to get two or three of these every year and now they are like phone calls from your Grandma about when next you’ll visit or whether you now have a boyfriend.

The main reason why I don’t like being sick, over and above the discomfort of a fever or stubborn pain, is the helplessness that comes with it. I have never suffered from a condition so debilitating that I had to be cared for too long – except that one bout of pneumonia almost 10 years ago, and it was nice to have my mother bring me soup and feel my forehead and kiss my cheek, but I have helped to take care of very sick people. And one of those memories came flooding back to me while I stood by my window at about 2 a.m. last night, wondering what it really felt like to be utterly helpless while also grateful that mine was just some discomfort that I felt sure would disappear with a lot more hot water sipped and gurgled at intervals.

When Jane first collapsed from some chest pain on a weekday, she was carried off to the sick bay and cared for there until she was well enough to sit up on her own and eat or get fed. In my high school in my time, there was nothing particularly extraordinary about students suffering severe asthma attacks or fainting from chest pain. Limuru bore the sort of cold you read about in books. Cutting or biting would best describe how it felt on your skin. On foggy days, visibility could blur from as little as four or five feet away, so that shadowy figures emerged when you walked across the school field on a particularly chilly morning. Just thinking about it makes me sad. I have never really liked cold weather. It is one of the reasons why I am glad that we don’t have winter in Kenya. The cold and rainy June to July stretches do it for me.

Days after her first incident, Jane got weaker and her fainting spells increased in number. As the head of a religious society she was a member of, I checked in on her when I could. The whistling sounds from her mouth or nose – I could not tell which at the time – left me feeling wary. I did not understand what it was like to struggle to breathe, such a seemingly natural and effortless action, but I felt sorry for her. Very sorry. The exact scene that played in my mind was the day we, the older members of aforementioned society, had to help Jane take a bath because we felt it would do her some good. I spoke with her, assuring her loudly for the benefit of those in the shower with us, that this was not a big deal and that we had helped care for older folk the same way when we closed for the holidays. It was a lie. I kept my eyes averted from hers, so I start with her feet. Out of nowhere, Jane reach for my hands and grabbed hold of them and started to whimper. I have never forgotten the look of absolute defeat on her face when I asked everyone to leave us while her hands remained clasped around my wrists.

I’m in a strange mood today. Somewhere between an eternal gratitude for good health and well-being and little white lies we can tell to make a bad situation a little better; somewhere between this dense degree of gratitude and this sad little place where I know I cannot explain away human suffering. Because even with the assurance of a better day to come, a Heaven for the righteous and long-suffering, it still hurts to hurt.

Jane did start to improve that weekend. And something between us shifted, drawing us closer and strengthening us both for the days ahead – for when I would help a younger little girl take her last bath before she died hours after I had told her that she would be okay. In my mind, I knew that she did not have much longer left. So we sat in the sun and talked a little and said nothing for a while and I left for my place while she died in a cold and empty ward all alone.

This is largely why I gave up any plans to practice clinical nutrition. Because like every person I know who can be described as strong, I have a soft and heaviness within me. It isn’t all bad, though, this little crevice of my existence from whence so many of my personal issues stem. Why not? It’s the same place where I draw all my empathy and atypical and selective capacity for patience and warmth.

New Year Old Things

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One of my favourite things about almost turning thirty is how certain I feel around/about my life. That’s not to say that nothing freaks me out anymore, or that I am no longer fearful. But a lot has changed. I have developed a weekday routine – around work and the occasional coffee or dinner date after 5 p.m., I prefer to turn in at 2230 hours and wake up no later than 9 a.m. – even on my off days, I have mastered my cycle and what that means for my mood, food preferences, need for company or “alone time”. I’m not there yet, but I have figured out a lot about what I can and will tolerate, what I like, what I love and what I want.

It’s a beautiful thing to be feeling this settled, because my early and mid 20s were a nightmare in this regard. I felt uncertain and insecure about anything and everything and though the anxieties and insecurities will crop up every now and then, I am now able to go:

“Shut up! You’re not helping.”

“Regret is useless. You can’t change what has happened so let us see what we can do going forward.”

“It’s okay not to be okay all the time.”

I am happy to be on track with my miscellaneous expenditure – I have finally loosened the spending noose and I cannot stress how liberating it is – and I am still saving a good fifth of my salary. I’ve made plans to travel later in the year – maybe twice instead of the usual one trip – since this is a big part of what I intend to do for as long as I have life. So far, I have been to Munich, Darmstadt and Vienna (2014), Diani (2015), Arusha (2016). I see Europe getting a few more visits in the future, but I would also like to go to Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and other parts of Kenya – especially the coast which I can never get enough of and the Rift Valley because of all the camping, hiking and lake viewing potential therein. I’m making time for family and friends – more for the latter because the former I can  deal with best in measured dozes.

Other than practicing more gratitude, I plan on getting a grip on my temper – surprise, surprise – and growing more patience and giving meditation a try for both the anger and impatience issues. I also want to attempt surviving the year without getting excusively and severely attached to an emotional/physical non-platonic male partner(ish). A good friend calls these non-arrangements: situationships.