NyarSiaya

I was made on a Monday, my mom says, when everyone was well rested, having had a great weekend, all the materials  had just been freshly delivered and not picked over, all the helpers were in a great mood, and voila! NyarSiaya, her pet name for me, was made. 

As a little girl, mom told me this often, when trimming my nails and complimenting how beautiful they were, or giving me a bath, or cleaning my ears, or attempting to braid my hair, whose bountifulness she constantly marveled at. I say attempting because even though my mom is a woman of many talents, a heart of gold and formidable intellect, braiding hair is not her thing. It’s fine, we all have weaknesses. Braiding hair is hers, and as weaknesses go, it’s not a bad one to have. “You were made on a Monday for sure,” she would say as she tried to tame my hair, “when hair had just arrived and God was trying to cram as much of it on one head as possible.” 

Since I was made on a Monday, I can braid hair to perfection, having inherited those skills from mom’s mother, Dana Athieno, a master weaver. Mom and I agree though, that the one part of us that was made on a Friday afternoon was our foreheads. It was Friday afternoon, and God had given foreheads to the early Monday morning crowd, making them so large they are called fiveheads. Said fiveheads were made to provide runways and continental breakfasts for mosquitos, as well as a shiny, beaming light for lost moths (God looks out for all creatures). By late Friday afternoon, only a sliver of foreheads remained, and God decided that it would be an act of mercy to grant mom and me the miniscule foreheads that remained rather than send us on our way without any foreheads. And so we ended up with purely functional foreheads, which is to say, enough to separate our hairlines from our eyebrows.

Mom tried, and failed to get me to wear dresses or anything girly, watching in dismay as her long awaited daughter tossed the mommy and me dresses she had made for me in favor of the tomboy hand-me-downs I got from my older brothers. I was going to climb trees and roll in mud, and I needed to be attired accordingly. Despite my tomboy ways, she didn’t waver in affirming me. She would tell me I was beautiful, teaching me self love, self confidence and knowing that I was enough, just as I was.

Recently, I was watching a Sauti Sol video where the group hosted a session with their fans, and one of the fans shared that she’d never felt beautiful, and felt invisible because the media and the music and film industry glorified light skin over dark skin. And apparently it crosses over to dating too, where, she said, men flocked towards light skinned women like moths to a  light bulb, making her feel like her dark skin was a cloak of invisibility. At that moment, she looked so defeated, and my heart went out to her. No one should have to endure scorn of any kind because of the abundance of melanin in their skin, and I hope that we all appreciate each other whether we are as melanated as the midnight sky, or as melanin deprived as Joe Biden’s teeth. Look them up, they are the whitest thing you will ever see. The glare might blind you.

I’m very grateful for a mother who affirmed me as a child, giving me the assurance to grow up into a self-confident, proudly African woman whose favorite feature is my melanated skin. 

Love the skin you’re in.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

“Someni vijana, muongeze pia bidii, mwisho wa kusoma, mutapata kazi nzuri sana. Remember that song?” She asks animatedly. I nod, instantly transported back to my childhood, the then ubiquitous track now an ear worm, Henry Makobi’s gravelly voice exhorting us to study diligently, extolling the virtues of the rewards that awaited those of us who heeded his words of wisdom.

“I was a kid of the system. You know that girl who always had neatly plaited lines, clean, perfectly ironed school uniform, shiny shoes, and covered books?” I nod, recalling my tomboy self at that age, and knowing I was definitely not that girl since being a tomboy and possessing lady-like tendencies at the tender age of six were mutually exclusive.

“Anyway, I was that kid. I was a rule follower, still was until very recently.” She pauses to take a big scoop of her hot sundae mint chocolate ice cream, examining it briefly before savoring it. “ Now I just do what feels good to my soul. I was the top student in my KCPE class, top ten nationwide. So I went to school in Kikuyu.” She says this in the same obnoxiously casual manner people use to say “I went to college in Boston” (Code for Harvard).

“Remember, I was a kid of the system, nose in books, no extracurriculars to speak of, no monkey business with Busherians. Not after my mother had scared me half to death by saying, and I quote, “If you play with boys you will get pregnant.”

So after four years of studiously devouring my books, dissecting frogs in the name of Biology, handling corrosive chemicals during Chemistry labs, enduring countless Physics theories, and suffering through many hours of chapel to help us walk in the light and save us from eternal damnation, I sat for and, naturally, aced my KCSE alongside many other bright girls, and that was the end of my four years at Alliance Girls High School. 

From a very early age, I always knew I wanted to leave Kenya. One of my uncles had been part of the Tom Mboya airlift, spoke with a very American sounding accent, and shared inspirational stories of the endless possibilities in that land of opportunity for those willing to put in the work. I looked forward to his visits because he brought us fun toys, and once showed me a laptop and let me use it.I fell in love with computers then. The next time he came back to Kenya, he brought me my very own laptop. You don’t understand how excited I was. It’s literally the equivalent of…” She pauses, trying to find an equivalent, something that will capture the enormity of the moment. She comes up empty.

“Being given ten acres of land?” I venture a guess.

“Bigger!” she responds

“Winning the lottery?” I ask tongue in cheek.

We both burst out laughing, knowing that the odds of winning the lottery are lower than being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark while wearing sequins.

“No, it was literally like discovering a whole new universe, one you had never heard of before, but you were intuitively attuned to. Fluent in their language, ingrained in their ways. That is what coding was to me. I was a natural.”

“Luckily for me, my uncle returned to Kenya to live there permanently, and I now had a coding tutor. It was later on that I found out the unfortunate circumstances of his return. A nasty divorce had rendered him almost penniless, and he had decided to return home, rather than be destitute in the United States. He was an inventive guy, hustling before it became fashionable, and soon, he had started a computer college just when they were becoming all the rage. When I was in form four, he told me about all these scholarships I could apply for, to study Computer Science. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that man.”

“Where is he now?” I ask.

“He’s retired, his business was very successful, he got out of the computer classes business and went into selling land. Matter of fact, I buy most of my land from him. Original hustler,that guy. Still has a hint of an American accent after all these years. He married a Kenyan chic and their kids are in college now, matter of fact one of my cousins stays with me in the summer. Good people, that family.”

“So anyway, I aced my KCSE, got into UCLA, on a full scholarship, like everything paid for. Nakuambia, I am blessed. Very blessed.So there I was, a kid of the system, on my way to my dream degree, but still very sheltered. I land in LA, and head nose first into my books. My grades were great in my first year. Then I met them.” She pauses, a faraway look in her eyes.

“Them?” I ask ominously, are we talking about the white walkers?

“Oh come on, you know them. They are everywhere. She waves her hands for dramatic effect. 

“The people who come here to go to school and hop on the party bus and never get off. That crowd that’s been here since God was a boy and have nothing to show for their time here.” 

I nod, I know them, everyone does. Well, unless you are them, in which case, I wish you well.

“So I partied hard. For the first time in my life, I had freedom. Gai! I have never had that much booze in my entire life. Parents really shouldn’t let their kids come out here straight out of high school. Bad idea. And the more sheltered the kid, the worse they get. Luckily for me, my uncle had a good friend who lived in LA, and she sat me down and gave me a very stern talking-to. That woman saved me from dropping out of school and becoming one of them. She would also randomly drop in at my hostel to check on me. By the time I was in my third year I had met my coding tribe and was so deep into coding that no one needed to worry about me joining the partying hordes. Fast forward, two years later, cap and gown in place, I graduated, first with my Bachelors’, then my Masters, and then I went all in for Permanent Head Damage, or PhD, known in certain circles as ‘no class ahead’.”

Then tech came calling. I was a nerd in a sea of nerds. My friends back home think I lead a very flashy life. I mean, here I am, a single successful female, making what seems like a bazillion to people back home. I have achieved everything I ever wanted professionally. I lead teams at work, I travel internationally, I can vacation anywhere I want. But something is missing. My mom thinks she knows what, or should I say who, is missing. A husband. Now, there’s something I knew I never wanted. Marriage just doesn’t make sense to me. I am in my twenties, meet this guy, and promise to love him forever? I don’t even know what I want to wear next week, how can I promise to love someone forever? Plus I like my space, and I like my house silent. This society and its KPIs.”

“KPIs?” I repeat, as I have never heard it used socially.

“You’re in corporate America, you know KPIs.”

I nod, waiting for her to continue.

“Go to school and make good grades. Check. Don’t play with boys. Check. Go to university. Check. Get a good job. Check. Where is your husband? Huh? At what point should I have met this husband while not “playing with boys”? Also, why must I have a husband? Awino, this world is a hard place if you are single. People automatically assume I am defective. Let’s not even get into the 50% divorce rate in these United States. Or the stranger than fiction stories I hear from back home of spouses competing to see who can sleep with one half of Nairobi before the other one sleeps with the other half. Or the domestic violence cases globally. But you know what I like? Women of our generation are not taking responsibility for failed marriages. Or sitting down and pining for errant husbands. They are not going the prayer warrior, fight for your marriage route. If marriage is war, then weddings should be at army boot camp training grounds, not in church. Some men are on the receiving end too. They are beaten, cheated on, stolen from, it’s a jungle out there. By the way, do you listen to Patanisho?” She asks.

I burst out laughing. This is the second time in as many months that that show has been recommended to me. A friend of mine recommended it a couple months ago. Yes, I am now a Patanisho addict. It is hilarious, it is heartbreaking, it is life. Ghost Mulei’s laughter gives me life.

“Yes, I listen to it on YouTube, usually when making dinner for my family.” She high fives me. Two Kenyans far away from home, connecting on having found a piece of home, courtesy of YouTube, whose offices are less than an hour away from where we are having this conversation.

“What do you tell your family now? When they ask you about marriage?” I ask her.

“I tell them the truth. That I need my space. That I don’t want a husband in my house. That ‘leave me alone’ is my love language. Motherhood is not something that appeals to me. The way I see it, my nieces and nephews stand to inherit all my money, so what’s the problem? More for them, right?”

“I finally found the missing piece after I called myself for a series of small meetings. I want out of corporate America. It is financially great, but it is a grind. So I will keep at it for a few more years, then I will quit and go teach coding to kids. That’s what I really want to do. Once I identified it, I felt at peace. Now I do it once a week and it brings me so much joy, way more than the job that pays me a ton of money. I told my family back home and they thought I had lost my marbles. But I am not living my life by anyone’s KPIs anymore. I’m doing me.”

We finish our ice cream pensively, two Kenyan women so far away from home, having taken somewhat similar career paths, but diametrically opposite relationship paths. 

She asks me if I always wanted to be a mom. I nod emphatically. I didn’t know much about what I wanted for my future, but I knew that I definitely wanted to have a child.

“Oh, one more thing,” she adds, “can you believe that with all the education we strive to attain, no one stops to tell us to invest our money and generate wealth? Like, no one. It’s a travesty, I tell you.” She says emphatically, as I nod vigorously.

“Some might even call it an abomination.” I chime in.

She continues, “and that’s why we have so many high income cliff spenders, they make a ton of money but are living paycheck to paycheck. It is tragic, if you ask me. Richness and brokenness are two sides of the same coin. Both are temporary, both can become permanent poverty or wealth. I love this quote “The rich invest their money and spend what is left; the poor spend their money and invest what is left”. 

I chew on that for a minute. It makes perfect sense. She drops another one, “We Buy Things We Don’t Need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

As a voracious consumer of investment articles, I am always appreciative of finding kindred spirits when it comes to investment ideas. One of my favorite quotes is “Would you rather look rich but be broke, or look broke but be wealthy?” And so we spend some more time talking about the almost mandatory land purchase that every Kenyan investor feels obligated to make, trading notes and contacts.

“What would you tell your younger self?” I ask her.

“Can I swear?” she asks

“Sure, why not.”

“To hell with the KPIs. And to hell with those who think less of my accomplishments because I don’t have a Mrs. in front of my name. Life is short, live it unapologetically.”

It takes a village

The late great Tupac Shakur’s song ‘keep your head up’ came to mind this past week when I was walking to my car after picking my son up from school. Just ahead of us was a little girl I frequently see during the daily pick-up rituals of masking up, bringing your own pen to sign your child out, and hearing about your child’s day from the teacher.

On that typically bright sunny day, she was walking just ahead of us, her hair in a very intricate hairstyle reminiscent of Alicia Keys’ hairdo in Fallin’. She wore hers with a lot of pink beads, which bobbed back and forth as she held her mother’s hand and walked to their car. Come to think of it, she did look like a mini–Alicia Keys, matching complexion and all.

I pointed out that I loved her hairstyle as it is extremely rare to:

1. Encounter braided hair where I live and

2. Encounter anyone with black ancestry in that particular school. As of the time of this article, the school has just over 60 students and only 3 have black parentage.

Still, I was taken aback when the girl’s mother told me that her daughter did not want to wear the braids to school because she was afraid the other kids would tease her and call her ugly. To use an often-misused metaphor, I was so shocked, my jaw dropped to the ground. When I had collected myself and my jaw, I squatted, placing me at eye level with the little girl. I told her the truth.

“You are enough just as you are, you are beautiful, your braids are beautiful, your curly hair is beautiful and being different is ok.”

At this point she was smiling and moving her head from side to side so I could see the rest of the hairstyle.

Then I asked her, “Do you know how to braid hair?”

“No, I’m only four!” she declared in a manner suggesting she seriously wanted to withdraw my adult card because what kind of adult expects a four-year-old child to know how to braid hair, let alone such an intricate hairstyle?

Undeterred, I asked her, “Will you be willing to braid my hair in that style when you are older?”

At this point, she was openly laughing at me, amazed at my silliness. Didn’t I know that she had things to do, people to see and planets to conquer? But she was smiling and laughing, and that was enough for me. Her mother, a teacher at the school, mentioned that her child was very shy. Fortunately, the school has a zero-tolerance policy against bullying, and to the mother’s knowledge, her daughter was not being bullied. Also, the only comments she received about her hairstyle so far had been around how she got the beads in her hair, as the other kids were taking notes. I got the distinct feeling that we will be seeing a lot of beaded hairstyles in that school. Turns out, she is a trendsetter, who would have thought.

Fact is children tease other children. Even in my native Kenya where we were mostly African, kids would tease others over the size of one’s head, or the shape of a nose, or ears that stuck out (ala Barack Obama) or unique height, body weight, skin tone, bow legs, wobbly knees etc. It could be anything. And even though this child’s parents constantly affirm her and tell her that she is beautiful, the child could use reinforcing messages from society. Enter all of us. Let us affirm the children in our lives, because an affirmed child knows who they are, and that they are enough, and that they are beautiful and loved just the way they are.

Not all who wander are lost

I was, by all accounts, a very naughty and inquisitive child. And impatient, quite impatient. So, combine these three qualities and what happened next will come as no surprise.

I attended primary school 30 minutes away from home, and a school bus would collect us in the morning, drop us off at school, and collect us again in the early afternoon for the return journey. This routine repeated itself for years, and so we came to count on the bus’ arrival everyday, like clockwork. We knew that after the final bell rang, we had just enough time to run to the nearby kiosk and buy mabuyu/ baobab seed candy or maembe pilipili/ peppered mango before we headed back home.

I still remember that afternoon, it was sunny, the endless blue sky promising a warm welcome when we got home. After an unusually long wait, we heard that the bus would be delayed. My friend Cheruto and I, after about 30 more minutes of waiting, decided, in our nine year old infinite wisdom, to trek home. I mean, how far could it be, it took the bus half an hour, so, in our minds, it would take us one hour tops. That’s how confident we were. And so, armed with our backpacks and Cheruto’s brown trench coat, we set off in the general direction of our homes. 

I can’t say for sure when the folly of our decision started to dawn on me. Maybe it was when we had to sneak away from the other children, or maybe it was when we almost immediately realized that to get to the main road that would lead us home, we had to walk past a Muslim cemetery, which we did, screaming at the top of our voices, and to use a common English composition phrase, running as fast as our skinny legs would carry us, lest the dead rose and came after us for being naughty children. 

We walked up winding roads, arriving at the Eldoret airstrip, and it was at this point that Cheruto pointed at the very thick forest across from it, whispering, “We need to be very quiet, I heard that people are murdered in that forest.” She delivered this news in a matter of fact tone, and at this point, an hour into our journey, and having barely survived unseen ghosts at the cemetery,  I was starting to get really tired, but the prospect of being murdered and buried in that forest injected much needed adrenalin in my legs, so I joined Cheruto as she sprinted up the hill. At this point, I was definitely regretting my decision to join this hair raising trek. 

Fifteen or so minutes later, when we had cleared the forest of unseen bloodthirsty hands, still very much alive, we soldiered on, spending the next hour walking on relatively flat and murder-free terrain. I asked Cheruto how she came about her forest news, and she shrugged, as one does when asked about a commonly known fact. You get to know someone really well when you are on an unplanned hike, having survived what seemed like near death experiences to a hyperbolic nine year old mind. I was an imaginative child, so, in my mind, we had just escaped ghoul and fiend. Let nine year old me be.

Cheruto’s mother was a cateress, and this girl was prepared. She had all kinds of fruit in her backpack, so we had enough snacks to last us for a few more hours. Everything was finally starting to work out, the two of us sharing Cheruto’s snacks, shooting the breeze, when unbeknownst to us, the clouds above us had entered into a quarrel, causing the erstwhile clear blue sky to have a change of heart and gather its squad of angry clouds the likes of which can only be found in Eldoret. There’s a little known fact about Eldoret. Sure, it’s produced more Olympic marathon athletes than I can count, but it also has a little secret. Hidden in its high altitude depths is the fact that Eldoret does not do wimpy rain, no ma’am, it puts on a spectacular show. Go big or go home. It doesn’t just  rain, it produces hailstones the size of a small golf ball, and if you happen to survive the concussion you are sure to receive should one of nature’s spheres land on your noggin, then there’s the lighting and thunderstorms to contend with. The phrase ‘when it rains it pours’ was literally coined in Eldoret. No? You don’t agree? I said what I said.

And so, when the angry clouds reached the zenith of their fight thousands of feet above our heads, the skies opened, releasing torrential rain. And this is not my hyperbolic nine year old mind speaking. It was so wet, Cheruto and I ran to a nearby kiosk to shelter from the deluge, her brown trench coat impotent in the face of Eldoret rain. About half an hour later, when the squabbling skies had vented their spleens and the rain had reduced to what Americans like to call a sprinkle, we resumed our journey. To say that we were cold is an understatement. We were soaked to the bone. I could barely feel my feet. Our brown uniform clung to our skin, our fingers raisined by the frigid rain.

Many hours after we set off on our fool’s adventure, and having survived plagues of biblical proportions like ghosts, murderers, potential floods and hailstones, we finally walked up to the gates that would lead us home. Not the pearly gates just to be clear. We had lost our body temperature, not our minds. To add insult to injury, the school bus drove past us, splashing water from a puddle on the road. We deserved it. When I got home that day, my mother, seeing my state, gave me an actual hot bath, and not the barely lukewarm temperature her elbow, which had been checking water temperature for decades, usually decided was best. To this day, I will go out of my way to avoid being cold, the hours of trekking in cold, soaked leather shoes all those years ago firmly imprinted in my brain as a do not repeat zone.

Here’s to all the intrepid little girls out there. May your adventures come with good friendships and warm endings.

When we die

He died in a car crash. This kid, who was my youngest brother’s classmate in primary school, now a grown man in his thirties, who had been a brilliant student and a thriving engineer, died in a tragic accident as January drew to a close.

The ideal natural order of life is that we are born, we grow up, start families, or end up single- whether by choice or fate, find a career, or a trade, and eventually retire, and after we have bored our families to death with tales of our glory days, wearing our grey crowns, our bodies give up and we are done. But death does not bend to our whims, it doesn’t care for schedules or sequence; it adds our names to its grim list from the moment we are born, waiting to pounce and rob us of our lives, sometimes hiding in plain sight.

But for most of us, the grim reaper is the final death. Most of us die young, really young. Our bodies are alive, our mouths speak. We eat, we drink, we laugh, we cry, we sleep, but we aren’t really alive. You see, we die when we give up on our dreams, when we stop listening to our hearts and what they seek. Talk to any kid, they have grand dreams, they are alive, their bright future illuminating their eyes. And then somewhere along the way, someone or something, a set of circumstances, takes that child’s dreams and tramples upon them, leaving shards where hope once bloomed.

This man’s death was a reminder. A reminder to resurrect ourselves while we still breathe, exhume our dreams from the graves we consigned them to, find a way to follow our hearts, live fully, truly, so when the grim reaper comes calling, we will have emptied ourselves of all we had to share in this life.

May he rest in peace.

Dia De Los Muertos

This weekend, many cultures around the world will hold days of prayer and remembrance for the departed. All Saints day is followed by All Souls day, which coincides with Día de Los Muertos, a day of remembrance observed by our Mexican brethren. Dia de Los Muertos is beautifully depicted in the film Coco, if you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor and watch it. It will enrich your life.

We have all known the pain of losing a loved one. And though they are physically gone from our lives, their memories live on in us. I hope you will find the time to remember your departed loved ones too, and keep their memory alive.

Today, we remember, not how we lost them, but much better this world was with them in it.

We remember:

The mother whose laughter filled her house with joy, who toiled tirelessly to single-handedly raise her children. That formidable woman whose firm disciplinarian parenting built in her children resilience that has seen them through life’s challenges; and who carried herself with dignity and unfailing grace even as she fought her final battle.

The father whose quiet strength carried his family through unimaginable adversity. He who steered his wife and children to safety in a war-torn land, and once their safety was assured, returning to fight to defend the land of his forefathers to the bitter end.

The grandmother whose harshness melted away when she held her first grandchild in her arms, to the disbelief of her own children. She who, while she birthed no children of her own, lovingly raised other people’s children, so they called her mother and grandmother because love transcends blood.

The grandfather whose steady love for his family fomented in them an urge to always put family first in everything they did.

The sister who always had a ready smile, making every guest feel right at home. Whose wanderlust led her to travel the world, seeing for herself the beauty it holds.

The brother who always looked out for his tribe of misfits. For though they were condemned to homelessness, he taught them that family is bonded by love.

The teacher who taught selflessly, hoping for a bright future for all of her students. And those students, fueled by her belief in them, scaled seemingly unattainable heights, always hearing her voice spurring them on “You can do it. Never give up!”

The nanny under whose loving care many children were raised, she who was there to clean scrapes and kiss pain away.

The children tragically lost before they took their first breath, their lives over before they began, borne on angel wings.

May they rest in peace, and may they live on in our hearts.

Winged Cacophony

I am an optimistic person. Yes, it’s 2020, a.k.a The Ten Plagues of Egypt- The Sequel. And so, when we planned a family vacation for early September, it was in the hope that even in this year of elevated racial strife, endless fires and Coronavirus, we would find relief in an idyllic glamping site in California. We made reservations weeks in advance, not knowing that extremely destructive fires were on the horizon. On the eve of our departure, a new fire was started by a couple who decided to throw a gender reveal party by launching a pyrotechnic device. No word on what gender is represented by fire and smoke. I have some name suggestions: Fire, Smoke, Flame, Fuego, Calor, Mach, Liet, Wang (the last three being fire, hot and burn in my native DhoLuo, a language you might want to learn for its poetry)

Not be deterred by the fiery gender reveal and other ongoing fires, we departed on Monday afternoon and arrived at our destination in under two hours. The sky was much clearer than the smoky skies we left behind, and things were finally starting to look up.

Now, I love being in nature as much as the next person, but camping is just not for me. Sleeping on the ground, practically a snack for whatever python, bear, lion, tiger or cheetah (or, all the above in my overactive imagination) that strolls by is not my idea of a relaxing time. The views of the night sky and crisp air are amazing, but they are not to die for, literally.

I know, I know, it runs in people’s families etc. etc., it did in mine too, before we had houses, and beds, and indoor plumbing. Come on people.  

We entered our tent, which I must say was very nicely laid out, and came with an en-suite bathroom. It even had a fan, which was very nice considering the 115F (46.1C) fry-your-egg-on-the-pavement temperature.

We left the tent door and window vents open to expedite the cooling process, alas, it would prove to be a costly mistake. Once the sun set, we sat outside gazing at the night sky, the pitch blackness of the night offering a mesmerizing array of dazzling stars. My husband and son went into the tent for their showers while I continued to be dazzled by the glittering sky. I was so enthralled by the view that I did not notice the SEAL unit of mosquitoes who, upon finally finding a human target, descended on me like a mute blanket. It was only when a particularly thirsty one bit me particularly hard that I snapped out of my reverie to find myself covered in bite marks.

People, we are living in the end times. Mosquitoes do not like me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Rumor has it that they too have a preference when it comes to the buffet that is human blood types, mine being at the very bottom of their list. They will literally attack everyone around me before they take a very grudging sip of my unappealing blood. I can only assume that due to very limited options brought about by lock-down, these mosquitoes cannot afford to be choosers, seeing as they don’t exactly get their pick of targets. I immediately ran inside the tent and we closed the door. Little did I know that Mosquito SEAL Unit 2 lay in wait, their shift about to start. As soon as I settled in, they descended on my head, biting my neck, ears and even my scalp, my scalp! My family had wisely completely covered their heads with their blankets, so the mosquitoes, once again, had to sink to the lows of targeting me. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Temperatures had dropped to around 68F (20C) when I finally started to drift off to sleep with my mosquito-chewed head covered in a cloyingly perfumed blanket (which would normally be a problem, but was now my only defense from the ravenous SEAL Unit 3 which I was certain was on its way to suck whatever was left of my blood). I may have slept for five minutes before I was rudely awakened by a dueling cacophony of bird noises. You see, long before we arrived at the glamping site, a simmering rivalry between a resident rooster and horn-bill had reached a crescendo, and seeing as I am not a coma level sleeper like the rest of my family, I was the lucky person to receive a front row seat to the screaming match of September 2020. I am not sure what time zone that rooster operates in. Actually, I think that rooster might be an import from the farms of upstate New York, seeing as it started its exuberant crowing at 1am Pacific (4am Eastern) and would not stop until almost four hours later. Not to be outdone, the cantankerous horn-bill responded to the crowing at a decibel level carefully curated to keep me awake, but not loud enough to, say, cause real damage, like rupture my eardrums. Hand-crafted artisanal cacophony, was what it was.

To say that I was groggy the next morning is an understatement. Add to that winds changing direction and bringing with them ashes from far flung fires, so that white specks of ash were now falling on my mosquito mangled flesh while we toasted in the glow of an eerily orange sun, and we decided to cut our losses and return home posthaste.

Home, sweet home, where the mosquitoes, roosters and horn-bills are not.

Sartorial Chronicles

“How you dey? I will make you the most beautiful dresses you have ever seen ooooo. I am well known back home you know! God don butta my bread. The President’s relatives were my customers, I can even show you photos of the clothes I made them. When you see your dresses, you will not believe it!” This animated proclamation was made to Abeni, a bride to be, and her two sisters. With a month to go before the wedding, the siblings wanted to believe that this time they would be lucky. They nodded slowly, hopeful that this tailor, or “Telo”, as tailors were known locally, would be true to his word.

The last two Telos they had worked with had stolen their fabric and vanished into thin air, in that order. But since they needed to have their dresses made, they had no choice but to keep on trying. After all, a girl’s broken heart could hope once more, especially when Presidential service was dangled before them.

“Which relatives did you sew for?” asked Abeni’s younger sister Abioye, envisioning herself in a regal dress, custom made by Telo to the President’s relatives.

“Sorry?” the Telo asked.

“Which of the President’s relatives did you sew clothes for?” she repeated.

“Oh, right, right! the President’s brothers and sisters. Yes, I made all of their clothes”

“I thought that the President was an only son? I didn’t know that he had brothers” Ayomide, the third sister, questioned. For one whose name meant “my joy has come”, she sure asked a lot of questions, and not those of the joyous kind.

“Why you dey give me wahala? In Africa, brothers be cousins and cousins be brothers, all join.” the Telo laughed nervously. Ayomide was not impressed. But like her sisters, she was stuck between the Telos who stole from them and this self-aggrandizing Telo. In other words, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He took their measurements in record time, not stopping to write them down. They left, assured that in two weeks he would have their clothes ready for their first fitting.

Exactly two weeks later, they listened as the Telo told them that he had not gotten to their dresses because he was fasting.

Abeni and Abioye were stunned into silence. Not so Ayomide.

“What did you say? When did you decide to start fasting?”

“Listen well well, young lady, this is why you no get husband ooo”

“I am here to ask about dresses, not husbands! When will your fast end?” she asked the Telo.

He shrugged, as if he had no idea when he would eat again. Just then, he let out a loud belch.

“Fasting, huh?” Ayomide countered. “What is that stuck in your teeth? It looks like meat to me.”

“Make you no vex me ooooo. I never chop all week!” the Telo, caught in a lie, became defiant.

The three sisters looked at each other, wondering what to do. They were at this “fasting” man’s mercy, and he knew it. When asked if he had any questions about measurements and design, he was so offended by their lack of faith in his abilities that he reminded them once again that he had clients in high places and was not fazed by their inquisition.

“Is there any way you can make our dresses in a week?” Abeni, the bride to be and the family peacemaker, gently asked. The thought of not having new clothes to wear at her wedding reception filled her with disappointment. She had lost a lot of weight for the wedding, and none of her previously made dresses would fit her as is. She fully expected to gain the weight back after her wedding because she was marrying a “big man” and as the wife of a rich man, thinness was an indicator of suffering.

One week later, they returned, and to their profound shock, found their dresses complete. When Abeni tried her dress on, it fit perfectly, which was shocking considering that  the Telo had not written down any of their measurements.

“You know say, my head dey there. Writing na for fools.” He bragged.

Abioye’s dress fit perfectly as well. But when Ayomide, who had called the Telo out on his “fasting” a week earlier tried hers on, the top half was too baggy and the short half was too tight.

“It doesn’t fit!” she exclaimed.

“Look at this one. She has been eating a lot  and became fat ooo. Ehe! Ehe! You ask me, a whole me, if I dey tell you the truth when I tell you say I never chop! And now you come back bigger than you were and blaming me. I did not put the food in your mouth ooo. I am done ooo, pay me for the two dresses, you can have yours for half price.”

“I’m not giving you a penny for this hot mess!” Ayomide countered.

For the sake of peace, Abeni intervened and they finally settled on paying for the two well made dresses and only a quarter of the price for Ayomide’s catastrophic dress. The Telo told them that the dresses used up all the fabric they brought, and nothing, not even scraps, were left over.

The man had stayed true to his word. When they first met him, he told them that when they saw their dresses, they would not believe it. Those words proved prophetic for Ayomide’s dress.

Ayomide was seething when they left. She found another Telo to adjust the disastrous dress and looked radiant at Abeni’s wedding later that month. With the fixed dress, maybe she would find a husband so people like the Telo would get off her back. The day was young.

Black Lives Matter

It has been a year. And it’s only June. I certainly hope that the rest of this decade will not be a repeat of this year. 2020 has been a year straight out of the end times depicted in the many religious texts. 2020 is the year that saw all the other catastrophes in previous years and said to them, “hold my beer”

You may have heard of a guy named Pharaoh who sat on a grand throne and enslaved Israelites, so the story goes. This fellow had enslaved the Israelites for over 430 years. Four Hundred and Thirty years! So, after 430 years, the Israelite God decided to send a heavily bearded man named Moses to have a chat with Pharaoh, and get him to #letmypeoplego.

Since Pharaoh was a king with a king-sized ego to boot, he decided not to join the #letmypeoplego movement.

So the Israelite’s God sent the infamous ten plagues:

Water turned to blood- note that this was quite different from the water to wine transformation that would take place many centuries later.

Frogs were next. This was before people discovered frog legs as a delicacy, and considered them to be pests. I have not personally partaken of frog legs, but I hear they are very tasty.

Lice were next. There is no denying that if I was the Pharaoh, I would have relented at this point. But the Pharaoh did not blink. He did not blink because he had people to pick the lice off of his hair, so that was a peasant problem, not his.

Wild animals and pestilence aka Coronavirus’ ancestors followed closely, but still, the Pharaoh refused to  #letmypeoplego

Next were boils, which, while painful and revolting, did nothing to free the enslaved Israelites. You see, that Pharaoh was what we call a kichwa ngumu (hard headed person)

Locusts were next. Full disclosure, these unwelcome visitors invited themselves to my homeland, Kenya. Let me tell you something about locusts. They are destructive with a capital D. If a hyena and a vulture had a child, it would be a locust. With everything else going on in the world, even the most hardened atheist had to wonder if this was all a coincidence.

Then there was darkness for three days, also known as living in a developing country where power is shut off for no apparent reason, so this would not necessarily have alerted a Pharaoh as to the presence of a campaign to #letmypeoplego. also, the Pharaoh had people whose job was literally holding lamps so he could see. So there was another peasant problem.

It was at this point that the Israelite God made the Pharaoh an offer he couldn’t refuse. He killed all the Egyptian first-born sons. After that, every Egyptian and their grandmother wanted the Israelites freed.

It is not lost on me that it is just over 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were kidnapped, chained and brought to the United States aboard cargo ships. 401 years to be precise. Millions of Africans died during the passage, alternately referred to as the African Holocaust, or Maafa.

Those who survived were sold like cattle, mothers separated from their young children, never to see them again. They were worked to the bone, beaten, raped, murdered, as if their lives did not matter. When Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves in 1863, it took two years for the enslaved people of Galveston Texas, to know that they were free. This day is now celebrated as Juneteenth  (originally June 19, 1865).

The physical chains of slavery may be broken, but the mentality that sustained slavery persists. Jim Crow laws ensured that discrimination persisted in housing, education, policing and every aspect of American life. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and countless others championed equality for all. They made some strides, but the work was not done. The work is not done. It is not done because on May 25, 2020, we all watched in horror as a white policeman knelt on a black man’s neck, even while the black man, George Floyd, pleaded for his life. He said he couldn’t breathe several times. During his final seconds, he cried for his mother. His dead mother. He knew he was dying.

8 minutes 46 seconds. They knelt on him for Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. In the United States of America. The land of the free. The home of the brave.

Not for George Floyd. Not for Breonna Taylor. Not for Ahmaud Arbery. Not for Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, children murdered in cold blood. Not for Eric Garner or Philando Castile. Not for the multitudes of victims whose names we will never know.

401 years after the first enslaved Africans landed on these shores, the majority of the non-black American public is now just becoming aware of the inequalities that still exist. Amid the barbecue Becky and bird-watching Karen stories, there have been hundreds of thousands more people who have peacefully rallied, chanting Black Lives Matter. Doctors, nurses, teachers, students, people of all ethnicities around the world have joined the cause. Japan, a historically reserved nation, has joined in the cause. It gives me hope to see so many people moved by the senseless murders of melanated people across the world. It gives me hope to see the tide of public opinion turning. If this energy and momentum results in a higher voter turnout, I hope we will see systemic change in this country. The work must continue, so their deaths are not in vain.

Say their names. And vote.

Black Lives Matter.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to the phenomenal women who birthed us, and whose love for us is unconditional.

Happy Mother’s Day to the phenomenal people who did not birth children, but loved and raised those around them as their own.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the phenomenal men, who have, for various reasons, filled a mother’s role in their children lives.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working mothers and mother-figures who toil all day and sacrifice time with their families so they can provide for their children.

Happy Mother’s Day to the brave women who serve in the Armed Forces, often in countries far away from home, for months at a time. Thank you for your service, we salute you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are ill and fighting for their lives, may they recover and be reunited with their families soon.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who have survived Cancer, we celebrate you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are expecting their first children, welcome to the club. Motherhood is to know what it feels like to have your heart live outside your body.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who suit up every day to work in medical facilities and risk their lives to treat Coronavirus patients, you are superheroes.