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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Don’t Think, just Y.O.L.O.

Everyday above ground is a great day; remember that.

-Pitbull

I have an open admission about being me and I have been worried about what everyone else would think and say. But I published a story about same sex attraction. Before that, it was a string of (maybe not too) sordid affairs. I have always wanted to tell those stories that we encounter, think about, hear about, but conveniently leave out of the internet because – other than human resource due diligence from a potential employer – there are a still some issues that people do not like to be associated with. Depending on your upbringing, surrounding, religious leanings, etc.

That aside, for a bit at least, I decided to go on a Y.O.L.O. train. I let go a little. I stopped trying to be a good girl for a bit. Although I’m not looking to develop a drinking habit, I did go to the coast of Kenya with girls (girls I don’t know as well as I usually would like to before taking a weekend trip with them) and I made embarrassing dancing videos. I’m not yet trying to earn Katy Perry’s respect by buying bottle service with rent money, but I did come back to no cooking gas and very little money for food and fare to work.

Things are working out quite nicely, without too much drama, and I am experiencing a few more instances of perfect over-flowing happiness than I have in a while. I’m also taking the time to consider why I do what I do and why I refrain from what I don’t do.

I especially enjoy not foreboding joy as much as I did before; because living in the moment teaches you how to stop worrying about the future you have no guarantee of seeing anyway.

Lunch with Samantha

rosemary chicken in thick tomato soup and rice boiled with peas

rosemary chicken in thick tomato soup and rice boiled with peas

Have you met someone who makes you feel absolutely amazing about who you are and what you have? I finally did. Again. If there is anything I have come to learn to stop taking for granted, it is the presence of wonderful people around me over the past couple of years. I took this for granted until I once had an epiphany. I was seated at a fast food joint somewhere in Nairobi with a couple of new friends in the poetry and writing circles when I stopped to listed to the laughter and arguing and debating. I was finally starting to feel perfectly happy for several minutes and hours at a time.

I made a friend out of an acquaintance some weeks ago. We now work in the same office, although for different companies, and have a few mutual friends from work and in the music and poetry and writing circles. When she walked into my little “studio apartment” yesterday, Samantha literally squealed with excitement over what I had done with the space. And she would not stop for several minutes.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe that a compliment is genuine until I have real proof that it is. Or until I have been told over and over – without, of course, getting annoyed by the repetitiveness. However, if the compliment comes from a man. I will usually assume that he is just being fresh. Should I hear the same thing from three other men, I will likely believe it to be true. Unless they’re brothers. Or friends. You get my point.

Sam ate the lunch I’d made and asked for seconds and thirds. This morning, she said she’d woken up thinking about the same meal. I packed the large batch that was left in my saucepans and brought it to the office to share with everyone else. The other thing about me is that I love cooking for people. I take time to prepare and cook myself an amazing meal from time to time, but the real joy for me is in cooking a lovely meal for several people – close friends are a personal favourite – and watching people go for more or ask to take some home with them.

Lunch with Samantha got me thinking about the things I love to do and am actually good at. One of those was (and still is) singing. I’m not claiming to sound like Sarah Brightman, but I can do the old hymns a lot of justice. If all goes well, I should be joining an old friend at the Mater Hospital this coming Wednesday for a bit of singing around the wards. I think it’s time to give more time to the things I love to do, because nothing beats that sense of fulfillment and completion that comes with pursuing what speaks to your spirit. Also, I’m craving some of that perfect happiness I have started to experience a little less lately.