Monday, January 17, 2022

This Chic: Conversations into Adulthood


So it’s like this. I’ve always known I’m a kawaida person. But not kawaida kawaida like vitambaa za viti in my sitting room. A bit stylish But not sleek like who now, your sis in-law ? Like I don’t care for expensive silverware and do not mind an untidy table once in a while, a yard strewn with leaves and chickens.

But I sort of have never sat with the thought long enough until I started hanging out with this family I mentioned.

So they have all these big homes in and farms where people can go camping and they take holidays and the Mum is a professor.

But she’s just kawaida, she doesn’t even do manicures and pedicures and such just walks about in torn sandals.

And she keeps kawaida dogs and has a kawaida couch and her bookshelves are dusty

But they are a family you know, and coz they are so tight they are able to love other people. Lost souls find their way to their home.

That’s the family I want to have. Kawaida, but generous and open and I want people dropping by whenever.


Yeah... like that ... dealing with banana trees that fell at night and such.

“And you really cannot handle the dust so it stays. But you have a dog and your food is fresh and yummy

And people have one pair of trousers with gumboots they wear every day.”

And a Tshirt with a hole

“And you know they were pjs one time long ago

But because you have a mind, you have fancy fruit and veggies
And make a cappuccino at home”

Yes. With funny print like a red chimney or bugs bunny

“Red Christmas chimney was gonna say that with green leaves haha.”

And you can bake cookies outside and discuss literature.

“And books.”

And sometimes I imagine I’ll have this earthshaking meeting of minds with the guy I’ll marry, but that’s not gonna happen. All you get is some guy who cannot match his suits bringing you oranges when you are sick not the sleek ones with their chocolates.

“It won’t be an earth-shattering meeting of minds.. more a slow burn as he doesn’t know how to be sleek with a woman.”

There was a guy once, he would bring me oranges and burn me CDs by boy bands and it was kinda corny but I was still in the age of romanticism and still expecting that earth-shaking moment where the water parts and the train starts to move and he has to run a few meters to say how he feels.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Embracing vulnerability: Where is home?

 I used to think that a home was; clean floors clean unstained dish cloths and perfectly cooked and served food.

It is, for some.

But I’m realising that ‘home’ is very different for me.
For me, home is a feeling.

Home is with people who say ‘oh you’re here, have a seat’ and bring you a plate and it doesn’t matter that the food is not five star and the rice is not mwea pishori.

Home is with people who, despite knowing my love for space and seclusion tell me ‘nakuja’ because I randomly mentioned that I fell sick and surviving on bread. And those people come and stretch themselves out on my couch for hours, and probably wash my dishes and run to the shop for me.

I guess what I mean is, home is not the house or the people even. It’s the feeling that you get when you are arguing with your friend in the back of the uber but you know you don’t hate each other but you are right and she is right but you don’t agree on this so you are shouting at each other, but hug goodbye when you part, still annoyed at each other.

Home is when someone tells you they want to do something for you but you tell them no, because you realise they are also struggling but you understand they love you and would make the sacrifice but you don’t let them bleed themselves dry.

Home is when you don’t have to explain yourself to people anymore, or chitchat to pass time because you realise even the silence speaks.

But it means hardwork too. You cannot ignore people for months and expect to still have homely feelings when you meet.

It’s active participation in each other’s lives.

What does ‘home’ look like for you?


Friday, October 22, 2021

Grief: A loveless Child

I met one of those girls who always seem to know what they want, how to get it without getting beat up.
Basically, how to play the game as an equal player.

The type of girl I would be if I straightened my hair often, wore shorter dresses often, and drank beer out of a mug?

I can be that girl I know but it would exhaust me because it would also involve me getting around and socializing because you don’t sit at home binging on Lupin and taking naps with straight hair and shaved eyebrows do you now?
You go out and meet people.
And have conversations about the depreciating value of technological assets and non-investment grade bonds.

She said that corona made her experience the midlife crisis she always thought was too far off.

She was very well put together, I wondered how anyone got through a midlife crisis in a white shirt and perfectly manicured hands.
When mine came I don’t think I shaved for a year.

Then I got to thinking about the last two years.

.....what was that?....
It can only be described as a midlife tragedy.

But tragedy teaches you.
If you are alert, it’s when you are in the depths that many things make sense.

Like grief.

 And the crazy thing is,

You don’t really know how many things you could be grieving for.

For me, it was the loss of a means to sustain my life
The loss of relationships
The loss of the ability to give
The loss of a sense of self
When a well laid out routine was disrupted,

And then came the loss of people.
Death put a cap on it.

How am I still standing?
How Do I still get up?
How do I breathe?


Today I learned that you really have to give room to grief.
Grief doesn't just come and leave when it should.
It doesn't tell you how long it plans to stay.
And when it finally goes,
It leaves a toothbrush
And a nightie
And makes copies of your gate key.
It will meet you sometimes in the early mornings when you want to take a morning walk.
It sometimes appears in the bedroom when you're trying to read a book.

It never leaves a message
Grief shows up in person and demands your attention.
Tugging at your cuffs like a small child,
Grabbing your arm like a matatu conductor
Sometimes drilling into your face like a low branch on an unfamiliar road.

So you must learn to make room for it.
Acknowledge it
Sit with it
Until the visits become unnecessary
For I have come to know that grief, is just a loveless child looking for attention.


Friday, September 17, 2021

An Ikigai Life

I had tea with my aunt. Dawa tea at Java.

She didn’t ask me about work, or why I don’t have a husband yet.

She asked,
‘How are you feeling?’
I said I was in a state.
She said, ‘I can tell you are not okay, and you wrote about losing your friend, grief is tough.’

I told her August was hard. There was a funeral or two each week. People I know, and my friends’ people.
“Before you finish comforting one you start comforting another.”

She asked about my plants.
I told her I now have a spinach and sukuma wiki.

‘ Do you know about Ikigai?’ She asked. ‘It’s a Japanese concept, and I think you are living your Ikigai.’

Something you are good at.

“I think you are very talented. I read your writing and I can tell you write with ease.”

I was glad it came from her.
Writing has never been a by the way for me. I write every day, not as a hobby but it’s something in me that demands to be let out.
Over time I have crafter my skill, got better at it, become more disciplined but at the same time maintained SUBLIME INNOCENCE.

And because I write whether I am earning from it or not, it never feels like a chore.

Something the world needs

Does the word need my writing?
The best writing I ever did was when I interviewed over 30 people living with Epilepsy and their families. Their stories helped to get medication for school going kids on expensive medication. You can view the project here:  Help a child with epilepsy stay in school

I learned love, resilience and grit from every family I visited. In turn, I did my bit to give a voice to their story. In spite of the challenges that come with having a non-communicable illness, most do their best to not be defined by their illness every day.

Something that rewards you.

‘ I can tell Gathoni, from talking with you that money is not a driving force for you. It is not a measure of success.
For you, it is something more. And I think it’s freedom’

“Yes. I love my time.”

‘And I guess your choice of work provides you with the freedom you crave.’

I told her about my hair business. How at first I just was looking for something to prevent me from being very broke. Then the more I learned and spent time with passionate people, who don’t look at hair as merely business The more I found my ground.

T Man, the loctician that taught me all about dreadlocks reconstruction once told us.

‘Hakuna haja kufanyia client job teke teke alafu kesho dredi zishaanza kukatika. Dredi ni life.’

-Don’t be in a hurry to service a client’s hair then ruin it. Dreadlocks are a permanent style, don’t use shortcuts-

I enjoy working on hair. I don’t get tired even when I have been on my feet for 8 hours. I love the money too. It’s a perfect reward.

When our brief tea was over and I got into the matatu, tears flowed.

I felt understood.

She had called me her ‘baby girl’ and it felt wonderful to not be the adult in the room for a few moments.

It took me back to 2003, having lunch with an aunt who fully got me.
She was great at giving tough advice and better at listening.
We laughed, we cried with her.
That was my last year as a child/ youth before I was propelled into instant adulthood.

She died the following year, and for many years after that, I was just potting about life hoping I don’t mess up things too much.

I haven’t had a clue about life but all the while masquerading as an adult.
I knew what I wanted, how to get there but then the world throws dishwater at you every 100 meters when you try to use your brain and do things your way

‘You are living the life many people want but only attain after retirement
. Don’t change it.’
She assured me.


I woke up in September

September came in at a pace I like. The first day was yellow and sunny and It made me imagine all the good times I would have outside.

It also created unplanned opportunities to meet up with people I’ve been meaning to hang out with. Like my home people.

We all lived in one house at some time.
Why do we disperse?

I am a dreamy sentimentalist.
Wanting all my people together.

I found myself back with my favorite people, farmers.

These tell me their real stories.
I like to hear everything a farmer has to say.
Farmers are patient.
And they trust in God.
And the real farmers are genuine.

I love genuine people.
Like the Train crew on the Nairobi Kikuyu evening Train where I got a Marriage offer.
I haven’t met such a happy bunch before. It was like being at a sports bar on an easy evening .

On the train bound to Kikuyu via Dagoretti, I met Kang’ethe.

He said, “would you like a husband? There is really no time to waste, you look like a good woman.
I am married, but I have a friend who would make a good husband, he just Donno yet. I trust him. What do you say?”

I told him ‘ Tell your friend to meet me here tomorrow at this time.’

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Pain management, when it's okay to laugh at funerals and why the bottom must hold.

These days, I walk around holding my intestines in my hand. 

That's a direct translation to ' kūnyitīrīra Mara na ngundi.'

It means that I am living in fear of the next bad news.

Mostly deaths.

Sometimes serious illness

And once in a while the fact that I cannot find the other sock in a pair.

We buried my friend yesterday. Between two tall trees that end in an eternal shade.

Her skin will no longer burn from the UV rays that kept her indoors.

Eventually, she will blossom.

My friend Juliet suffered pain. But she knew the skill of pain management.

She lived to the full between one painkiller injection and the next.

She once told me

'If it wasn't these painkillers, I would have ground my teeth to powder by now.'

Pain management is an expensive affair as well.

She was a writer and spoke about her condition every day.

Not to be pitied, but to help others living with lupus to be understood by society.

We would be in the hospital at 11.00p.m, doctors and nurses and the reception and most times the watchman, trying to find a vein in her hands and arms and sometimes feet. The Watchman who I think also did some lab work always found a vein after slapping the poor woman's inner arms several times.

The injection in the feet was the most painful. She would bear the pain of the needle, the pain of the needle wound and the pain from Lupus.

I believe the last few years when she was totally dependent on the painkillers, her body took every kind of beating, but at least she could have a few minutes to talk to her mother, read and write.

Juliet was one of those people who will be having the worst day of your life but would still text me to say- Hi Gathoni just checking on you-

When I grieved and got disappointed and nearly went to the bottom of human emotions and remained there, she said, 'maybe you should speak to someone.'

She then would stay up with me at strange times in the night and listen to me talking about things that didn't make sense.

I appreciate her for that. 

I am also a big cowardly chicken, she understood that.

When we were writing her story, for the eulogy, I kept thinking, would Juliet say we used common language? Did we misspell anything? Does this story reflect the life of a writer/ editor/ literature lover?

I told my friend about it and she asked?

' Is that what you are going to ask us when you get resurrected?'

'You need to tell us what to write in yours so you can proofread right now.'

She has dark humour. It's the best.

She is the one that asked me after telling her my mother was dead, ' does the man know her baby mama is dead?'

And make laugh inappropriately, to the chagrin of my 

'Proper' aunties. 

I told her I am determined to watch Armageddon live.

But just Incase I said, she should put a reminder to plant thorns and aloe vera on my grave. 

And tell them to write : 

Here lies a woman bitter of soul and thorny of countenance.

I got distracted at the gravesite. It was a very calming walk.

It somehow blows up the bubble you have been floating on. The bubble that. Tells you you are special.

You are not special.

People born in 1935 die, people born in 1964 die, and tiny people born in 2014 die. 

It's peaceful in the graveyard.

After many deaths and eulogies in my adult life, I've come to know that no one can really write your story.

When we finished Juliet's story, her friend asked me, do you think we should add her mother and brother's name?

He mentioned to me later that it seemed kinda off to have the names of her Animal family and nothing on her human family. 

It had not occurred to me.

And I thought that is exactly the kind of discussion I and Juliet would have. How dressing up made her grumpy.

I knew a woman at Umoja 1 market, who shocked my aunt for telling her she had just come from the studio to have a portrait picture of her done. Mbica ya Kīrengo.

One that would be good enough to use at her funeral.

I was maybe 12 and thought that was a very good idea.

But we don't like to think about such things.

I think it's a good idea to have a folder of good pictures, perhaps in the top drawer in your cabinet where people can easily access it after you clock out.

And a list of phrases that best describe you.

  • Grumpy until fed.
  • Did not like people very much 
  • Friend to many, close to a few
  • Read the newspaper
  • Was gluten-free
  • Never tried a single diet
  • Very unfit 
  • Was once summoned to the chief's office for starting a fight.
  • Tried prospecting for gold.

Things that describe you beyond your primary school and high school education.

'Sneaked in roasted maize to class in class six and got suspended for a week.'

'Almost drowned in the neighbour's fish pond at 9 years old.'

The Bible mentions that in the last days there will be itua nda, news that cut your stomach in half.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Season Finale

 Do you ever feel like you are living in Season Finale of a thriller?

I have been feeling like I am in a Part 3 of a popularized animation movie

The part where, everybody dies.

The last three weeks I have received news of death every single day.

I lost a friend this week, and I am not sure how I feel. I felt cold, then I was irritable, then caught myself staring at one spot for many minutes, then couldn't find anything to wear so I arrived at work at 4.00 pm. 

Juliet, was awesome. Even when laying in a hospital bed at 11.30  in the night with a UV drip attached, for pain killers, she would be asking your opinion on pop culture, African writers, relationships and the theatre.

I could never bring up a topic I didn't understand very well, she would argue it in all directions then I would be sitting there wondering- What do I even know?

But that is not what made her awesome.

It is her attitude towards life and death.

She would tell me "I was sure I would die last week." Then go into detail about what new flare-up she was having at the moment. But not in a woishe manner. Just facts. "I am sick, I can't feel my toes, that is my life yeah,  please may I have a pancake."

She is the most grateful, sick person I know. (I can't use past tense yet)

I could boil a potato for her and she would act like I had just prepared lasagna for her.

She gave me books.

She gave me a dress

She gave me money

She respected me.

Death is close. I often wonder if I am living as I ought to, in relation to my sure mortality.

This Chic: Conversations into Adulthood

  So it’s like this. I’ve always known I’m a kawaida person. But not kawaida kawaida like vitambaa za viti in my sitting room. A bit stylish...