My Kenyan Obsessions

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Part I

Hand making the V sign, Kenya flag painted

Matters of a Contemporary Kenya

All is well, usually before weaving into the Kenyan contemporary narrative; until my peers and I are nudged to commit to an identity tag. The working tag on such occasions is the ever tempting subjugation of my very own self. A self that I have wanted to belong and in doing so, submit to the meaning of life. The dilemma in this case, and which forms the better part of this essay, is somewhat an ideal to conform. To fit in, and easily-comfortably retreat into the Kenyan rhetoric as a whole and without pretending. In any case, fitting in might entail initiation into certain non-conducive aspects of society – that should apparently appear as insensitive and with the most possible light ever.

Yet, to sink in back to who I really am and out of the self-creation that I have identified as for years. It is a tempting pressure to shed off the observe of my society, everything that society has cultivated in me and I deem wrong. Wrong not in my eyes but in the eyes of Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’s seminal text ‘Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature.’ In which Ngũgĩ claims ‘I shall look at the African realities as they are affected by the great struggle between the two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other.’

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What remains today of the Kenyan Identity are an insipid redemption from imperialism, the crux of foreign assimilation and the cleansing of our African soul. The concept of slavery and colonialism might be an entirely odd topic to convey in these times; but inwardly to state that despite 1964, despite independence – we are still battling a persistent disease to remain afloat. The standard expectation, even as malignant as it would be, imposes upon you to be shameful of your roots, your language and in conforming to this choking alienation of what rightfully belongs to us – language ; we somewhat have drunk away our intellectual thoughts and dug away the soul of our African spirit; to the extent of raising a bushy tailed strain of African so –called – intellects who cannot speak a word from their ethnic language.

Ngũgĩ decries this cultural isolation of our own language, as ‘linguicide’, a form of atrocity that destroys memories and kills culture. In writing, I usually fall into a dilemma. One that I have to contend with in order to create an image of art that represents my true identity. Whilst in this contention, I try to envision a subject matter with which I think from my roots (My mother tongue) and outline it in English. Even as I have done this for years, I haven’t recognized the sensitivity of this lone activity, as it often undermines my Kenyan individuality. If I can think in my mother tongue, then what actually holds me back from writing in my mother tongue? Today’s western ideologies challenge my African particularity; whether, at the least expectations, can we even exist outside the box of western integrities?  Whether we Kenyans can exist in the skins of our own personality? It is in the context of this subject that I grant myself the artistic license to challenge whatever that is not African, which is not Kenyan, and which is not conservatist. Education, fashion, religion, entertainment and the political idiocy included that we are forced into every single day in our lives.

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In the opening paragraph of Decolonizing the Mind, Ngũgĩ draws the image of an African in a continued ceaseless struggle to free him/herself, from the pitiless imperialism of Euro-American based politics, economics and culture. It is in fact a struggle, a rebellious war of liberation from the shackles of neo-colonialism but one that Africans, Kenyans have given up on. And like post trauma stressed victims of a lost walk, they resort to foreign culture, as if it’s the drug that heals their pain of loss.

The exclusive use of foreign language in schools and the extent of lashing a few scholars in elementary that do not comfort to this linguifuckery; has projected what Ngũgĩ describes as a language famine in the continent. In today’s Kenya, would parents only hope of having an enlightened kid is a suppression to only speak in English and not their mother tongue? And if you haven’t noticed the voluble clarity of your peers refer to another as mzungu (White Man) when they spoke with a foreign twang in their voices.

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Award Winning Literature Guru: Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo

As if this blatant idiocy is not enough, we have seen such mzungus become the object of attention and praise because they appear more civilized and learned than their counterparts. I see you counteract to this, free yourself from the guilt and besides smack the hell bitter aggravation to my face. Now you want to argue and claim that it’s a matter of society and society prides in what is good. So what is good, and If any, and in what context and in comparison to what? The conservatist meru in me that hasn’t left out the ‘M’ in M-bush for you to know am talking about a bush?

I wouldn’t write that way, no way and I’m not encouraging affection towards highly accented articulation; and even if I would, there is no way I would acknowledge, a social transformation of wordings and spellings in the   Oxford dictionary to fit my Kenyannesse. Nevertheless, this would give writers like me more head ache when getting published in the New Yorker. What I’m trying to say, is could we at least appreciate our roots and love our languages. For what’s the need for your son dear parent to learn English, French, German and Mandarin when your Luo ascent has a more dramatic cadence at the Kenya National Theater?

 

Photo Credits:

Roxanne Shewchuk

Jimmy Jimmy

Daniel A Anderson

 

Mending My Walls

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Toxicity

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Over the years, I have stretched some loosely hanging dimensions way too far and overwhelmed myself with a feeling of impossibility. A feeling that doesn’t escape me for one second. Sometimes when I’m not busy I try to check on it.

The ego. The heart. The soul.

Whether it  hurts and for quite an iniquitous moment of time, I hold on to my chest and  feel if it’s there.

It’s there. 

The pain hasn’t gone away. It has eaten into the cribs of my emotions and dragged with it my hopes and possibilities. Pushed me into a corner.

A corner  I hardly can push back because what lies in the dark is scary and cold. 

Cold in every dimension. 

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A few minutes before hitting to class. She hits back. Your brain tunes back to life and your heart jingles. You are moved and in all honestly – you think your love story is punctuating it’s flow. You hang both hands around your face, sliding an old school Infinix  across your nose. A mumble forms on your lips and your heaving breaths life into your longing. The long ubiquitous mumble forms into a prayer. The prayer you whisper to your God brings with it tears you can’t hold back. 

While you rush to press the read button. Sorry. You stop there. The earth trembles, your eyes close and the truth smacks your face.pexels-photo-2345374

 

For days you waited for her damn reply. Patiently and –  slowly glorifying that ‘kafeeling’ that perhaps this chick you are so crazy about is busy doing something constructive. And that tiny optimistic voice at the back of your mind cries out that you are being an ugly impatient jerk. Is it just you or everyone is endowed with the art of waiting. That feeling convinces you that the voices you hear are only doubts. You have got esteem, right? Then why the doubts. It’s worth. You tell yourself. 

The hurt, the pain and the doubts.  For they are all a means to a happy end. In fact, that’s what it takes to not die a painfully lonely life. The sacrifices, right?  Its fucking you up and you feel it inside your soul in trembles. Your blood rushes. Your heart beats. 

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Whenever you text her a slew of conversations. She falls back into a corner. Your minds rushes again. You wait that the tick will turn blue long before you lose your patient. But it’s a lie. You’ve never lost your cool.

It’s been this way for 6 months. 

How in the world would you lose your patience today? Maybe she will change and the magic will spark once more. After days of waiting. The tick turns blue and she comforts you with a twist of niceties. Monster-ed toxicity lotioned in nice love till you forget; 

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Forget what you’ve been through while you waited for her response.

The lover will say  was busy and you will find your validation. This message will kiss your emptiness and your skin will melt away into comfort. But deep down you realize she will go again. She will disappear into her slumber and you will remain to dance the jingle. The jingle of despair and unrequited love.  

The jingle of her toxicity. 

Toxicity that makes you feel unwanted. 

The mother of all paranoia.

Finding my Heartbeat

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Before everything happened. 

We used to talk and people would listen. Am not talking about any people. The top cream. The  top one percent ruling caste. They are lost in disillusion. Colonialist fantasies that woefully make them appear as ghosts. 

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The last time I saw blood on my pavement was 11 years ago. The lingering faith of such peace is not existent everywhere as you would want me to conservatively profess. Freedom, democracy, unity are all  themes that explore the complex journey of healing a dying nation. Even darker is the subject of economic empowerment for the typical Kenyan. 

In considering the contemporary political scene, dispossession occurs to be a rather retrogressive debate. Sadly, a debate  clothed in sweetness and denied its sarcastic freedom. It is not that authorities have curtailed the freedom of expression in Kenya.  In fact, it is the safest point of any era so as to say- when you can speak anything , anywhere, however you want. Unless for hate speech which seemingly would spur tribal malfire or violence. 

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Will you even forget those times before I was born? When to pass across a point you had to gather a community of people; organize them on a public space and speak. Contemporary Kenya  and the world at large is a digital space. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp groups and so forth.  Gone is the frustration of community gatherings and civic talks. The blogosphere also paints itself on the front end of communication. It is where artists of all kinds conjure varying tastes of  magic. 

But were community gathering a frustration really ?

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Perhaps just like me, your day began on a lighter note. Without reluctance, you warmly woke up from your bed and teamed with millions of others into the dreaded rat race. Unlike me, you neither complained the water tasted pints of salt. You alighted from the matatu and surprisingly had the audacity to  smilingly great the traffic officer. Damn , that should have been a frown.

The newspaper salesmen threw the Daily Nation and without freaking at the headline ; you gladly and disappointingly grabbed a hundred shillings and gave it to him. Trust me , I would have freaked at the headline of a Kenyan Newspaper. But you see, I can’t just come and shout at you that politicians are ghostly tenderpreneurs out there to auction the divided souls of its people. 

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Doesn’t it perplex you my dear, 

That you are sitting pretty  tuning from one station to another while a tint; in a long line of Jubilee scandals is worth $600 Million (Approximately Ksh 60 Billion) – Kimwarer Dam Scandal. Does it not frighten the hell out of you, your son someday is still going to attend those USELESS SHAMS of halls adorned as universities. 

[ Challenge: its fun haha  – read the above bolded capitalized words quickly , two times repeatedly — I can see how you desperately attempted to wear a foreign twang into the words, come on, Wee ni Mkenya; Mwafrika]

Well let’s go on. 

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Like me, you will  probably shout your way through the crowd, desperate that someone will hear; but unlike the 90s where the freedom of speech was curtailed – People would speak at the slightest opportunity and the public would lend its ear – this time you got full rights to the podium and no one listens. 

Find your Freedom 

Find your Heartbeat

What was, 

Is no more.

The Face on the Front Page

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Every day she hopes things will work out.

Last when I saw her, she was bleeding pain. A pain that she refused to say what it was. Whatever it was; it had eaten away the front of her smile and was busy devouring her inside. You could see it in her gait and the way she talked, even her eyes shone with some dimming light. Frantically as she forceful and coldly denied it, her breath much in anticipation of pressing on – but her radiance melting down like that of an abandoned whisky – stole her charm and left a stoic frame grasping for some energy.

Energy she couldn’t find.

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Photo Credits: Marjorie Mwendwa – Self Inspired Model with 254flo Kenya

I could see what she was carrying. And there was this conviction in her words – that it was nothing. That everything was okay and things were going cool. She was carrying a desperate heaviness, one that you don’t describe in words but in melodramatic facials- an emptiness that could easily ghost her from reality – yet this is what you saw from a distance.

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Not me, not her, but you. This is what you saw in her – another name for charm. A burger in a five star restaurant – a woman worth the cover page of a high end beauty magazine; an extremely beautiful woman, one you had probably seen on a billboard. One of those billboards that hang tightly to the walls of upper hill sky crappers; on stickers loosely clinging on a lavish matatu –  perhaps one you had seen on a Geisha advert; in between the time you catch up with your favorite show on Maisha Magic. Girls like those don’t advertise Sportpesa, or infinix or Indomie –Such looks are only for some fetish Kenya Airways Ad, Vogue clothes line, and the weekly red carpet. Blah Blah Blah- anyways that’s not the point.

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The thing about beauty is it makes you vulnerable, scared and misplaced. She was vulnerable – she was scared and I could feel it in my bones when she hugged me. The world expects you to be beautiful but not too beautiful. So it’s a dilemma sufficiently in itself- that wreaks vainfulness and mispriority. Yet a superficial bar imposed on most Kenyan Women, which sometimes is unattainable – and other times a goal for many.

Yet the most beautiful girl in the room has always been the show stopper. She cannot speak to someone’s boyfriend a sentence or two without sparking envy. It’s very much easy to calibrate her image in colors, fretting wonder and niceties- but so difficult to see her inside. So she coils unspeaking because you can’t always have it all. She tirelessly spends time examining the mirror looking back at her – because the world has made her think it’s the only thing she can offer.

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Sadly, the very world takes upon its hand to judge her, to turn her around and weigh her by the tones of skin color, eyes, the line her mouth scants upon her lips, the size of her legs and whether her dimples are worth a kiss.   The anecdotes revolving around her life scantily, if not deeply – affect how she relates with people. Whenever someone tells her ‘she’s beautiful’; she doesn’t let that get into her so much. Because for years; her beauty has been sort of a weapon to catalyze un-requested favors from people. Getting things she never deserved just because she had a killer smile.

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No one loves this kind of hype and especially when it revolves around beauty and popularity. Friends have stuck by her; but she can’t undress them beyond the superficial giggles and read their intentions. Maybe some are just there for the hype- just to be called her friend. But deep inside they want to strip her, to have her smile and keep it for themselves.

To destroy her.

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Mathew Wakhungu, better known as Tao Tripper of the now separated Camp Mulla;  Tells Grace Msalame in the Unscripted Show – that Hype doesn’t change you, it changes those around you.

For years, you have dripped in the charm of people smiling at you and showing you  lots of love. You are armed with confidence and humility is an understatement, you’ve become a man of the people. The name on the headline; the face of the caption. This only changes them, your closest friends, who in turn change you slowly, intentionally or unintentionally – I won’t get into the detail, It’s quite philosophical.

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The next time we met was after two weeks; the duration of time she wanted me to wait so that she could gently tell me what was wrong. I had waited impatiently – and as gentle as she was – quite easily delivered to her promise. It was a night – down one of those middle end joints along Muindi Bingu Street; her favorite spot for Japanese Sushi. Myself I had never eaten Sushi and when the table was spread with a tray, quite a fragrance was the welcome that I got lost in the eating rather than the talking.

The led lights inside the café had this calming effect – and would change color from time to time. The seduction was quite attractive – as they transformed her eyes from blue, to red then blue again. She asked me what it meant to lose someone I love – and I told her to me it meant never loving again.

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But amidst the background of slow jazz music blended with chunks of karaoke Zilizopendwa – I digged dip into the pieces on my tray – shoving each into my throat; while she sat there- plucking every piece of her pain, and shoving each of those pieces into my soul.

Not as clumsily as I shoved the sushi into my mouth. But calmly and slowly, bittersweet grief narrated with some glow – Her face was shimmering and with the music; I felt the taste of the evening – today without Smirnoff, or Tusker or anything.

Just me and a teacher – she was teaching me how to reach out into the lumps in my soul; how to say no to pain; how to be weary and say no to show stoppers. It was her own story; told one after the other; about words she’d been told in judgment of her intelligence; Intelligence brought against her looks; about grief, about worry and about people; and men she had lost because she’d thought she had it all. Deep down I SECRETLY thought ‘you cannot always have it all’ yet that night I walked  away knowing what it means to just mean beautiful to people.