Swahili Event – 03.11.18

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Swahili Event – 03.11.18 – (As seen from the eyes of a member of Pamoja Kenya Association Denmark-PKAD)

This is a thank you letter to our neighbours on the southern border, our Tanzanian brothers and sisters. What an event! Last Saturday, the 3rd of November, you managed to bring together Ghanaians, Kenyans, Nigerians, Ugandans, Somalis and many other African countries together, not to forget Danes. Last Saturday, we all walked around admiring products with ‘Made in Africa’ all over them.

You see, it was not so much the products that were in focus, as the conversations around them. One of my absolute highlights was when an elderly Danish lady came over to our Pamoja Kenya stand, picked up a book by Professor Wangari Maathai, and told me a long interesting story about how she met and worked with the late Nobel laureate more than 30 years ago back in Nairobi. It was so overwhelming to meet someone who had known and worked with my lifelong heroine.

I met Danes who were eager to speak in Swahili, to tell stories of their lives in Africa. Even after all those years away from Africa, they remembered the streets they had lived in, the people they had worked with, Africa was still with them. An amazing dance group, a blend of Danes and Tanzanians, did a Sukuma traditional dance. A Ugandan duo entertained us with a traditional dance, amid cheers and ululations. It got me thinking how fortunate we are to belong to a continent with such a rich culture.

The event did not discriminate, all ages were represented, children were crawling on the floor, as young as two years old in their African regalia, or dancing to the danishanised African song with their parents. My teenage daughter and I played a game of guessing where the different people came from, depending on their looks. “He must be a Tanzanian.” “That one is for sure a Kenyan.” ”The Ugandans look like this.” We would also laugh at the generalization of it all. But ya, it takes some confidence in ones Kenyanness, and a feel of belonging, to make such bold statements.

We had African food and drank Tusker as we listened to ‘Hakuna Matata’ played on a saxophone, and watched a fashion show of African fabrics in display. For a moment we might have been in Lagos or Kampala, Dodoma or Nairobi.

For me, Christmas came early this year, on the 3rd of November, right in the middle of the beautiful Nansensgade neighbourhood in the heart of Copenhagen.

In the spirit of the great Mwalimu Nyerere, Africa was at the center of it all.

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It Might As Well Be November In This Lonely North

It’s grey and cold, it’s misty and it’s wet outside. Leaves have fallen off the trees, and the promise of warmth fades off with their demise, at times I want to go deep into the forest and scream away my pain, in the hope that it too will shed off from my body. The temperatures are low, and I know soon, very soon, ice and snow will fill the grounds on which we walk. It must be November in this lonely North.
Everyone around me has their fragile bodies covered in wool and fake fur coats, trying hard to hide the milliards of troubles floating in their minds. Everyone, I imagine, must be just as scared and as cold as the weather outside. I should know better, but I don’t trust my own intentions, and very soon I will start to doubt the intentions of the ones around me. Right now I feel like I am miles away from the ones I hold dear. And in some ways I am. But at the back of my mind, I know I have friends who wish me well, I know they are not as coldhearted as ice, and that they want to reach out to me, to be with and listen to me. And yet I won’t let them in, I shan’t burden their shoulders with the weight of my thoughts. No wonder the loneliness I feel.
So instead, I crawl back in and hide inside my cocoon. I don’t see the sun breaking out, I don’t feel the heat of its rays. It’s spring, it’s summer, it’s autumn, it’s winter, it’s all of it and it’s none of it, because right now nothing matters. To me, all is dark, grey and cold. Everything and everyone is ice cold and my burdens too weighty to let out in the harsh world. It might as well be November in this lonely North.
Dearest, you walked in our shoes tenfold. With courage and strength, you loved and smiled through the pain. You cared to not burden the ones who were already laden. So time and again I ask myself, when you called, did I answer? When you spoke, did I listen? When you laughed, did I laugh with you and when you cried, did I stretch my arms out to you? Or was I too busy to listen, too engrossed in my own to see you. There sure was more I could have done, but I too, was covered in my own troubles, and maybe I kept quiet, not to burden you. Why did I not trust you to listen, where was my faith that you would be there. Was I too, closed up inside my cocoon, waiting for the summer warmth that never came forth?
We live in a society that starts with I and ends with me. These two tiny words leave no space for ‘you’, ‘them’, and ‘us’. We train our eyes to see what we want to see, our ears to listen to the stories we form inside our heads. Dear friend, in your memory, I will reach out to friends and strangers alike. I will smile and wish them a good day. I will give a hug that lasts at least a minute to a friend, and because of you, I will see, I will listen and I will share.
Rest well my friend, rest well till the day we meet.

A Day of a Happy Childhood Revisited

22.07Pamoja Kenya DK Family Event – Summer of 2018.

The sun is shining outside. It calls for a walk in the forest, maybe playing with my kids outside or perhaps just a walk to our local Brugsen for milk. But all I do is sit in my living room, my legs up, browsing the TV for the latest updates on Tour de France. In all honesty, I have no interest in cycling, or of hundreds of men sweating profusely in not-so-flattering outfits, making their way over the Alps in temperatures in the upper twenties. But, in a weird way, watching their labour consoles me, like cold oil rubbed on aching muscles. I tell myself that someone else, though far away, is in more agony that I am. Yes, my muscles ache, my joints feel heavier and my steps are slower. I cannot even make the stairs without being constantly reminded that I am in bad shape, I need to do more exercises, and I’m not 13 anymore.

But I am grateful. The agony of every step I take today is the story of hours well spent yesterday. Hours of jumping, running, falling, hopping, and dancing. A day of a happy childhood revisited. That day was yesterday, at the Pamoja Kenya family event in Fælledparken.

Yesterday, we played Katii with homemade balls. Back in primary school, we made them from plastic bags, which we found lying around in the streets, or the ones our local shopkeeper packed milk and sugar in, when our mothers sent us to the kiosk. This time around, my children’s old socks replaced the jualas. Later, my son asked me what the purpose of the game was. I laughed and told him “Just avoid getting hit by the ball, that’s all, avoid getting hit.” So that’s what we did, my daughter, my son and a lot of other Kenyans and their children, all did their best to avoid getting hit. Playing Katii took me back to my eight-year-old self. It is worth all today’s soreness.

Yesterday we played Tug of War. Children as young as two pulled the rope together with their mothers. At first, the children listened to the grown-ups’ instructions of on how to play the game, but at some point they decided to make their own rules, a new version of tag-oh-wo.

We played ‘Public Van’ as well.  You are excused if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s that rope-jumping game, of which the pronunciation varied, depending on which part of Kenya one came from. For my sister and I, it was Mabrigan Mabrigan, other Kenyans might have referred to it as Mabligan, or Mapligan. Whatever you may think of it now, it was through songs like this, and rhymes like Humpty Dumpty, that I learned the English language and etiquette. I learned about saluting the king, and bowing for the queen, songs that triggered my imagination to countries far away, where this mystical couple, who wore crowns of gold, lived in castles, had men serving them, and rode in horse-drawn chariots. And what were ‘chariots’ again?

Yesterday, we played football. It took me back to the days of playing with my brothers and neighbours, with balls made of jualas, or, if were lucky, an old, worn out real football. We would meet in the public school compound nearby, or in the streets, to play. But yesterday we had four new footballs, and as we revived our childhood days, our children may have been reliving their world cup images, the boys dreaming of being the next Lukaku, or Mbappe, and the young girls imagining themselves to be Nadia Nadim. Or maybe they were just playing football for the pleasure of it.

We played Danish games too. We played croquet, which I still cannot pronounce, we played Jenga and ‘Kongespil’ and many other. Here we, the old guard, sat back and let the children explain the rules of the games.

Yesterday I met a lady who reminded me of my mother. She walked into the group with ease, with the kind of confidence that only comes with age. She smiled gently, sincerely, and looked genuinely happy to see a lot of youngsters gathered together, dancing and singing, and just having a good time. I wished for a minute my mother were here, that my children would visit their grandma, as I did mine at their age.

Yesterday may have brought soreness to my joints, but the happiness and the memories are beyond measure. Fælledparken for a moment felt like Uhuru Park, there were seventy-two of us gathered there. Some had seen the Family Event advertised on Facebook, I talked to a couple who had driven from Lolland with their baby to be there, a family from Vejle had stayed an extra day in Copenhagen, just to be a part of it all. Some just joined in because they saw the flag hoisted in an old beach tree, for others it was the music by Mamadou and the djs that attracted them. For some I will never know. The important thing is that they were there. Children who hardly ever see other children who look like them, have their skin colour, their curls, met a lot of people who resemble them and their parents. As my friend Irene put it ’our children saw a mirror of themselves’. It has been a long time since I was part of such a large group of people celebrating their uniqueness, dressed in Vitenges and dashikis, speaking in our language, displaying our afros, and dancing to our music.

Yesterday was the meeting of minds and spirits of different generations, children as young as eight months, teenagers, parents and grandparents were part of it. There was a feeling of togetherness, of belonging, of not being alone. We were a part of something greater than each of us. We were seventy-two cheerful souls with one denominator: Kenya.

Yesterday we danced and played as if we had been friends forever, and my hope is that when we meet again, we shall not be strangers, we shall say ‘Habari gani?’ to each other, share our joys and sorrows, we will be comrades in this our ‘second home’, far away from home.

 

It Might As Well Be November In This Lonely North

It’s grey and cold, it’s misty and it’s wet outside. Leaves have fallen off the trees, and the promise of warmth fades off with their demise, at times I want to go deep into the forest and scream away my pain, in the hope that it too will shed off from my body. The temperatures are low, and I know soon, very soon, ice and snow will fill the grounds on which we walk. It must be November in this lonely North.

Everyone around me has their fragile bodies covered in wool and fake fur coats, trying hard to hide the milliards of troubles floating in their minds. Everyone, I imagine, must be just as scared and as cold as the weather outside. I should know better, but I don’t trust my own intentions, and very soon I will start to doubt the intentions of the ones around me. Right now I feel like I am miles away from the ones I hold dear. And in some ways I am. But at the back of my mind, I know I have friends who wish me well, I know they are not as coldhearted as ice, and that they want to reach out to me, to be with and listen to me. And yet I won’t let them in, I shan’t burden their shoulders with the weight of my thoughts. No wonder the loneliness I feel.

So instead, I crawl back in and hide inside my cocoon. I don’t see the sun breaking out, I don’t feel the heat of its rays. It’s spring, it’s summer, it’s autumn, it’s winter, it’s all of it and it’s none of it, because right now nothing matters. To me, all is dark, grey and cold. Everything and everyone is ice cold and my burdens too weighty to let out in the harsh world. It might as well be November in this lonely North.

Dearest, you walked in our shoes tenfold. With courage and strength, you loved and smiled through the pain. You cared to not burden the ones who were already laden. So time and again I ask myself, when you called, did I answer? When you spoke, did I listen? When you laughed, did I laugh with you and when you cried, did I stretch my arms out to you? Or was I too busy to listen, too engrossed in my own to see you. There sure was more I could have done, but I too, was covered in my own troubles, and maybe I kept quiet, not to burden you. Why did I not trust you to listen, where was my faith that you would be there. Was I too, closed up inside my cocoon, waiting for the summer warmth that never came forth?

We live in a society that starts with I and ends with me. These two tiny words leave no space for ‘you’, ‘them’, and ‘us’. We train our eyes to see what we want to see, our ears to listen to the stories we form inside our heads. Dear friend, in your memory, I will reach out to friends and strangers alike. I will smile and wish them a good day. I will give a hug that lasts at least a minute to a friend, and because of you, I will see, I will listen and I will share.

Rest well my friend, rest well till the day we meet.

The Mandera heroes

Monday morning, the 22nd of December 2015, a most beautiful thing happened. A group of Muslims riding in a bus in Kenya risked their lives against a terror group for their fellow Christians travelers. But please bear with me for a short introduction, a flashback, if you may.

About a year ago, November 2014, Al-Shabaab, the notorious terrorists based in Somalia, stopped a bus going to Nairobi from Mandera, a small town in North Eastern Kenya. They separated Muslim and Christian passengers and shot the Christians. 28 people lost their lives. Al-Shabaab is not at all foreign to the media thanks to the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, and more recently, on the Garissa University. When unable to penetrate the larger cities, residents of the towns bordering Somalia become its ego-booster, as were the case of the bus attack. This group has carried out some of the most gruesome murders in Kenya’s history since the British Gulag. The bus attack incident not only caught the Kenyan media, but it also saw international media flooding to the capital, Nairobi, to narrate the story to viewers in the safety of their living rooms. Ambassadors and journalists confirmed that indeed Kenya was unsafe, a prime target for terrorists. Over and over, news channels repeated stories of previous terrorist incidents (a very different reaction than to the attacks in Paris). Worst of all, they created wide-spread fear of a country that was herself a victim of terror. And so, terrorists got the last word.

Despite the setbacks, Kenyans picked themselves up and moved on. The terrorists failed to divide them in the name of religion. Muslims, Hindus, traditionalist and Christians lived and worked together, side by side, as they always have.

But a year later, Kenya was to be hit again, hence this story. Early morning on Monday December 22nd, in an incident similar to that of November 2014, Al-Shabaab again stopped a bus to Mandera, and ordered Muslims to step aside, so they could kill the rest with no further consideration. But the Muslims refused. “You either kill us together or you leave us alone,” they said. Some gave the Christians their clothing, the hijab and the kanzu, the Christian women in jeans now resembled Muslim men, and would not be asked to recite from the Quran. The Muslims stood fast, willing to give their lives for the life of others. They were not from the Secret Service or SEALs, not even the Kenyan army. What they did was an act of pure kindness and courage. An act of selflessness – and expected neither medals nor recognition. They stood with their fellow Kenyans, even in the face of death.

As a Kenyan living in Denmark, BBC is a major source of international news, and this is where I first learned of this story. I could hardly wait to get home that evening to watch the coverage in the Danish TV (DR). News at 18:30, Nothing. I waited patiently for the 21:30 news but still not a mention. I found it hard to believe that such a story could go unreported. I wondered that if this had happened in a small town in Holland or Belgium, would it have gone unnoticed? Or if a group of Christians, or Buddhists, or even atheists, stood up against a terrorist group, would that have reached the news?

We all know that good news doesn’t sell, but if nothing else, is this not a great human interest story? We are happy to know how many teenagers cannot live without the social media, but where are the proportions? How did you miss a story such as this, a story that is – literally speaking – a matter of life and death. How did you miss it DR?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35151967

Africa at the Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark

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The ABC’s of Africa at the Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark, 21st September 2015.

‘To be at the Louisiana today… what was it like?’ I ask myself over and over. It’s difficult to find words to summarise my experience at The Africa Exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Art, hard to describe such a mix of emotions. From meeting the spirit of all the people displayed so vividly on screens, in paintings, photographs, videos, from seeing the beautiful photos of the Senegalese Omar Victor Diop, from the noisy videos of Congolese speaking in French, Nigerians in their trademark accent, the short films of the colourful Kenyan matatus booming with music. It is from seeing new generations of Africans owning the space they occupy – without apologies. It’s recognizing African artists’ names on walls. And being confronted with all this on the European continent, where, sometimes, Africa feels all too far and foreign.

At the first stop of the exhibition, large maps of Africa hang on the walls; There is one, all yellow, no country boundaries, except for three small countries in West Africa in red. In big letters it says ‘No Ebola’ on the yellow part, and ‘Ebola’ on the red. Another one shows the size of Africa in relation to the rest of the world – or is it the other way around? A small North America covers Western Africa, China and Japan cover the southern African part while India and most of Europe fill the northern and eastern part. And the immensity of this vast landmass begins to dawn on me. This enormous continent of which so little is known.

The exports map catches my eye. Gold, diamonds, oil, uranium, tea and coffee fills the map, and then a bit more gold, diamonds and crude oil. I am stricken by the visual effects of this information that I have taken for granted. Like many other museum goers I stare at the maps as if it were the first time I saw one. I realize that this exhibition is as educational as it is entertaining – the ABCs of Africa. I ponder the relationships between all this wealth and war and the way Africa is often represented. The narrative of conflict, poverty and disease sells better, it evokes emotions. News makes us go ‘…and here I am complaining about my car, or my last holiday, while children in Africa are dying of hunger oh…’News may even help us discover our own humanity, however one-sided they are.

But today, we have other avenues. Avenues of the architecture, culture and identity of the continent. Nairobi is one of the featured cities, and so I run directly to this section. And oh, how it still resembles itself, Nairobi. The thousands of people walking fast and focused along the streets on a screen, images of tall buildings and hundreds of stalls in the streets, a video of matatus – the ‘graffitized’, celebrity-painted, hip hop-booming vehicles that don’t just transport passengers from A to B, but also represent a culture, a way of life for Kenyans. Your identity can be judged by the matatu you chose to commute with.

I see myself walking those streets, ‘hiking’ those matatus. I hear the booming music inside, see the heads of the passengers nodding in time. The conductor bangs the matatu, signaling the driver to stop. It stops wherever, picks customers along the road – as long as there are pedestrians waving it down the matatu stops. And all the traffic behind grinds to a halt with it. More passengers! More money! The conductor swings himself out of the matatu, hits the ground and runs to keep up with it. He calls young ladies ‘baby’, ‘supuu’, some smile others sneer, some swing their heads this way, and their hips that way, their jeans a perfect fit on their well-curved hips. It’s his job to flirt with all good-looking young ladies. Inside the matatu, passengers update Facebook and twitter accounts, taking advantage of free wifi, they maneuver their virtual world as they do the physical one. The conductor bangs on the matatu again – and the wheels go round and round as do the images in my mind.

My hands stretch towards the screen, and tears fill my eyes. A lump settles in my throat. My Africa, my Nairobi in Louisiana. On the screen the same clip is still playing, passengers jump in and out of the matatu as soon as it stops. I look closely, hoping to see my brother, my mother, or perhaps a friend. I recognize none of the faces, but still I look as passengers scramble to get in. I see a part of me in them, I have been there. I, too, have walked, danced and lived that rhythm, the rhythm of the Kenyan matatu. That rhythm connects all of us, we fit in, we bend, we stand, we fall and we rise. Despite our challenges, the matatu unites us as we nod to the beat.

Besides me, a young girl stares at me, but says nothing. How I wish she’d know how happy I feel, so overwhelmed, so proud to be Kenyan today. I’d wish for her to know how grateful I am to these artists, these curators, who have given my Nairobi a fair representation, made it real. My kind of real.

I move to the next exhibit, a picture of a guy wearing wire-woven glasses. I recognise the artist’s name – Kabiru, who makes eyewear art from Nairobi’s trash – has his work admired thousands of miles away. On another screen, a guy is talking about the famous Kibera, the capital of slum tourism. Of how millions of dollars have been poured into one of the world’s largest slums for years, yet little has changed. But is it true? He tells that a lot is changing. Improved housing, better sewage system, even ecological kitchens are coming up. Slum tourists, you’d better hurry, because soon the Kibera you cherish will only be in history books.

Nairobi surrounds me, images of people going about their business, images of tall, beautiful, shiny, dusty and even shanty buildings, images of street art, of loud colourful matatus surround me. I am in Nairobi. I can smell her, and hear her sounds.

I wipe my eyes, look around, wonder who else have these feelings, who else has been transported, who else is a witness. I cannot be sure, but they seem to go around Nairobi unaffected, like they did Dakar, Lagos and Maputo. Maybe as I would, had it been Stockholm, Rome or New York. I want to move on, but I fear that if I leave that space, the feeling I have will be gone as well.

But I do move on, to the works of Wangechi Mutu, a celebrated artist and the reason I came today. A long black rubber snake lies in slumber, consumed with materialism (stuffed in paper from glossy magazines). It has the face of a woman, as does the painting of the supernatural being on the wall. Her work, as she describes it, is the combination of African traditions, consumerism in the new world, and the strength, power and mystery of female beings. I look behind and tell my friend: “Here she is, the lady I told you about, Wangechi Mutu.” She asks where she is from, and I realize I took it for granted that she would recognize the name as Kenyan.

I proceed to Dakar, Senegal, the ‘Fashion Centre’ of Africa. Large, colourful prints, beautiful clothes, models, who look like they were carved to fit just those clothes, models with glowing ebony complexions, big afros, others with shiny, bald heads, big and small, the diversity of Africa. Even in this sophistication, there is no denying the hardships of poverty and war, but the vibrancy of life comes through as well, offering a balanced reality, from Nairobi to Maputo, Jo’burg and Kinshasa. I feel as if I am ON the continent, moving from city to city, with no hindrance by time or distance.

Incidentally, Kinshasa is where my own ignorance is put on display. Inside a small, yellow room a video of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra is showing. I remember being impressed the first time I heard about it. ‘An African symphony orchestra, in Kinshasa of all places. Maybe Accra, Lagos, or Capetown’, I’d thought. Notwithstanding, most of us, who have lived sub-saharan Africa, have at one time or another encountered the Lingala music, the soothing, melodious voices of Lingala singers and the flexibility of their dancers. While the Congolese gave diamonds and gold to the rest of the world, they gave their beautiful rhythms to the African continent. But yet, even with that knowledge safe in my mind, it’s the story of war, rape, and disease that comes to mind when I think of the DRC. That is the narrative I have bought into. I expected to watch this movie feeling pity. Instead, I am filled with admiration for the cello players who build their own instruments from local materials, as do the guitarists and the violinists, because new ones are out of reach, and for the vocalists who learn the German text for Beethoven’s music and sing it with no background knowledge of the German language. They have perfected their music from love, they work hard in their day jobs and live in tough conditions, but still find time to rehearse.

Their determination and resilience is moving, as are the happy faces around them. It’s not as if I expected everyone to be gloomy, but that I particularly notice the ‘happy faces’ bothers me. Could it be the single-minded narrative that has obscured my vision? War is close to the hearts of the Congolese, but it’s not the only story to be told. As demonstrated by one of the musicians whose deceased father was a major in the army. Her eyes cloud over as she talks about him, but she smiles as she talks of her hopes for her son, maybe he could become a musician like herself.

The film ends with a concert at a market place, with hundreds attending, cheering to the sounds of Beethoven in Congo, of music, rhythm, Africa, my Africa, the enormous, poor, war-hunger-greed-stricken, rough, cruel, tough, smooth, beautiful, rhythmic, flamboyant, innovative, resilient, graciously rich and wonderfully diverse Africa. Louisiana has taken me to Africa.

I have been here since midday walking around several African cities. There’s much more, more sections upstairs and downstairs, more architecture, more culture and more identity. It’s now five o’clock, I need to catch my train on time, since there are no matatus to stop at my command (think of the chaos!).I rush through the remaining exhibitions, but finally realize I’m doing injustice to myself. I need to find another day, a lot more than five hours, to indulge in it all.

But before leaving Louisiana, I pass by Ng’endo Mukii’s Yellow Fever, a short video combining animations, human bodies, music, history, African landscape, dance and hair, all beautifully intertwined. In her short film, Ng’endo shows the effect of historic exclusion of Africans, when defining and endorsing what is beautiful. She questions the role of the media in this, and exposes the absurdity of using it to define ourselves. From choosing plastic hair over our own to the extent of harmful skin bleaching chemicals on our bodies. As Ng’endo eloquently puts it: ‘We seek our ideals outside our own reality’. And a little girl in the short film that sums it all up. When asked how she feels when she looks at herself in the mirror, she says: “It makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable.”

I, too, feel a little uncomfortable with the truths I have been confronted with today. But I still leave Louisiana overwhelmed by joy and appreciation of this reminder of the wonder and mystery that is Africa, and of Africans taking the centre stage in providing a new narrative. Thank you, Louisiana, for acknowledging my identity, for informing and transforming me, for taking me to Africa.

 

Rebirth

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It’s Monday afternoon, the sunshine is bright outside. But Chéri’s room is dark and reeks of vodka.

She walks around, alone, kicking the empties on the floor. Her fists are clenched, her hair’s undone, and her eyes red and tired.

“Only last week I looked eighteen, no one believed I was thirty-eight! I had two wonderful colleagues – Olga and Betty- and I had an identity. Look at me now!” she says, looking at the mirror.

“An identity! Ha, that’s a laugh. Guess you had a boyfriend too!”  a Voice says.

“Oh him, the cause of all my misery. He burned my wigs and my extensions over a fight last Thursday, a fight that he caused,” answers Chéri pacing the small room.

You caused it, you introduced them, at that party. You saw them flirting, and what did you do?” asks the Voice.

“Well, I made myself pretty, that’s what I did, more makeup, my red lipstick became redder, my curly hair became straighter, longer. I almost looked like Olga, who almost looked like Betty, who almost looked like Cameron Diaz. My friends liked the new me and so did you. Why blame me now?”

“I am not blaming you, just reminding you of the order of events,” the Voice says.

“I know what happened! I came to Europe to make money. I had to fit in, be like everyone else, and joined the race to look like you-know-who. With my lightened skin and blonde hair I made it as far as Friday. And you were quiet for the three years. You smiled when I smiled.” Chéri says as she sits on the bed. Her heart beats faster, her voice is louder.

“Then on Friday morning, they came to work looking like cover models of SHE Magazine. I hate cleaning hotels! Betty looked at me, her eyeballs almost falling out,’What happened?’ she said, while Olga sneered: ‘OMG, you look like an African!’ I was so humiliated! My body shivered, while my best friends just gaped at me, at my naked face and kinky hair.”

Chéri grabs her hair and pulls it violently. The Voice tries to interrupt, but Chéri yells.

“Then they said my hips were too big! My hands shook so violently I poured coffee all over and then threw the cup at Olga – well, she got me fired for that. It’s all over now!”

“It’s not over. You look fine, we both do. We’re the real us. Look at that afro, those brown eyes, that beautiful chocolate skin. Look at those supple, natural lips. It’s not about Olga, or your imaginary boyfriend. You have been living a lie! Starting with your name, Njeri. Which Mugikuyu woman calls herself Chéri?” asks the Voice softly.

“Arrgh, I hate your guts!” Chéri screams.

Finally a sharp noise, the sound of broken glass. Njeri just sits there, staring at her bleeding fist.

“So here we are, Njeri. Both broken and bleeding, but human. We had to be broken first to be whole.”

A Week in Ljungby

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Shiru did not notice the tears running down her little boy’s sweet face or her husband’s envious look when she waved them goodbye. Instead, she fumbled with the key that was on her hand, wondering if it was the right one for such an old worn out cottage. As soon as they drove off she threw her hands in the air, absorbed the fresh smells of the Swedish pine forest and the singing birds.

The main door led to a small kitchen, where she packed her foodstuff in the frigde, walked down to the next room and threw her rug sack over the Sofabed. She opened the windows, served a glass of red wine and unpacked her computer and typed away. This would be her life for the next one week as she finalized on her book, without a child to cook for or a house to clean. She would not have to bath if she didn’t care to.

An Open Letter to the Deputy President of Kenya

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Dear Deputy President – William S. Ruto,

You are appointed to protect the freedoms of all Kenyans, as per our constitution. But on the 3rd of May 2015, you stood at the pulpit in front of hundreds and spoke of how you will stand with the religious leaders and defend ‘our faith and beliefs’. Now when you said ‘our faith and beliefs’, who did you include in that ‘our’? On whose behalf were you speaking? I know this is a no-brainer, you say. ‘Of course it’s us Christians,’ and I answer ‘Oh you mean us Christians who are given the power to judge and condemn the ones who are not like us just because we are the majority?’ By now I know you can sense a bit of sarcasm in this open letter but don’t go yet.

Because Mr. Deputy President, you maybe religious and you may even mean well, but you have, I guess, missed an important part, there are people who confess the Christian faith and are homosexuals. There are other homosexuals who may have dropped the faith part – and who would blame them? – but still come from good God fearing Christian families. Yet there are those that do not see a contradiction with their sexual orientation and their faith, especially not with this civilized religion. A religion that says love others as you love yourselves (-but not if they are gay!- you add.) A religion that says, protect the underprivileged, the weak and the poor – (but not if they are homosexual! -you repeat.) You and the religious leaders vow to condemn a group of Kenyans just because you do not understand what and how it is to be them. You and the leaders decide that people who happen to love differently, have no place in this beautiful country.

I will not be counted among those that carry your version of the Christian faith, the condemning version. In saying ‘our faith’, ‘our belief’ You do not speak for me, should not include me, and you should not include the millions of Kenyans you spite upon, who are homosexuals, have family members or friends that are homosexuals or who like me just believe in the famous ‘live and let live’ mantra. Unlike you I will stand with Kenyans, homosexual Kenyans or otherwise to defend their right to humanity and not just their religious beliefs.

Your statement is not unique, not in your choice of words, neither on the medium of transmitting it. It’s become only too casual to make homophobic comments, statements on blogs, newspapers, TV or just comments on Facebook pages. And even though some of us do not condone it, we assume the likes of Binyavanga Wainaina will write commentary about it, they are the ones who have a voice on this topic. I too am guilty of camplacency. I scream to anyone who is willing to listen on women issues, about black people, about children and even about religion when terrorists attack our country, but when it comes to raising my voice against homophobia I sit on my hands. I now realize it is as much my duty to act, to be proactive, to defend the rights of my fellow mwananchi against powerful religious institutions and powerful government leaders as anyone else’. I choose to be my brother’s and sister’s keeper, even with more urgency now when the ones to protect them are the very ones calling for their prosecution. Someone once said that when you hurt my fellow human, you take a piece of my own humanity with it. That is why we choose to put our heads in the sand, we choose to hide from the suffering of others because it eventually becomes our own.

Without getting too religious, I am grateful for our constitution that defends the rights of every Kenyan irrespective of race, creed, gender and dare I say their sexual preferences. In your comments Mr. DP, you added that homosexuality was against Christianity and human nature. You might have a better grasp on what Christianity entails than I do, but I can assure you that homosexuality is as much a human nature as heterosexuality is. These two ways of being are practised by humans. Live and let live.

Thank you for reading my opinion on the matter.

Sincerely,

Gathoni

Airport Fever

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Airport Fever

I adjusted my fleece jacket and relaxed my shoulders again. I wasn’t sure what I hated more; if it was the hard chairs at the JKIA airport, or the waiting and the imminent flying. I tried mother’s phone if only to hear my son’s voice for the last time before boarding. Two years old he would be in a week without his mother to help him blow out the candles. I tried the phone again and there was still no answer.

“Excuse me.” said a male voice, it was from a man who tripped on my bag that lay carelessly on the floor. He had been pacing up and down, murmuring something to himself as if in prayer.

“Mmh” I said back and continued pressing the keys on my phone, a quick ‘love you’ message would have to do.

“After you.” The male voice came again, I looked up, and was surprised at the contradiction of his deep husky voice and his small body. He gestured with his hands offering me a space infront of him with a smile. I was struck by his perfect smile, his black curly hair, his familiar perfume, an expensive kind, I thought. I waved my hands to him, as to let him go. I then realized that he had no hand luggage, he swung a red passport and his IPhone at the boarding counter. The attendant looked at him, at his passport and then looked at him again and finally one last look at his passport. I looked at him and his bare hands, I wondered why he travelled so light, and to where he was travelling. The attendant forced a smile and wished him a safe flight. I watched him walk through the scanning, his face frowned at the beep when the red sign showed up, and he removed his belt and went through it again. As he wore his belt back on I saw the perfect line of his teeth and his brown eyes brightened up again.

“Enjoy your flight.”  The attendant said as she handed me my passport and boarding pass, and I with my shaky hands emptied my handbag for scanning.