WHO:Kenya, top 10 globally in environmental deaths

The Daily Nation has published a story I wrote about the loss of tree cover in Kenya’s Luo Nyanza region. What this link  does not contain is a sidebar I placed on the story about how Kenya is performing globally as far as deaths related to the environment are concerned.

Turns out Kenya ranks among top ten countries in the world with the most deaths and sicknesses that are linked to abuse of the environment, new data released from the global health body shows.

The World’s Health Organisation (WHO) released data from its Global Health Observatory on March 15, 2016 which shows that Kenya lost 46,060 in 2012 alone to infectious, parasitic, neonatal and nutritional diseases directly linked to the management of— or lack thereof— the environment.

If you are not afraid of numbers, you can take a look at the data from WHO here –> GHO 2016. Just a quick analysis on that spreadsheet and you can already deduce that Kenya is  the fifth country in Africa with such a high number of deaths after Democratic Republic of Congo (163,548), Ethiopia (82,032) Angola (53,081) and Tanzania (48,814). That very year, the very data shows, environmentally related non-communicable diseases and injuries claimed 34,663 lives.

The report, “Preventing disease through healthy environments, a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks” (You can download it here),  analysed all the countries covering more than 100 diseases.

Therein, the diseases linked directly to the environment include respiratory, diarrhoeal and zoonotic infections. These are attributed to the public improper manipulation of the ecosystem to encourage breeding sites for disease causing germs and maximise contacts with animals.

The other reasons are sanitation, availability of clean water, improper disposal waste and household pollution. The report comes a few months after the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 revealed that more than half (56 per cent) of households use wood as their main source of cooking fuel and that more than 15 per cent of children in Kenya are affected by diarrhoea.

Other deaths are from non-communicable diseases such as cancers and accidents such as drowning and falls into open holes or collapsing buildings. Some of the top global killers listed in the report –Malaria, cancers, heart and diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory disease— as linked to the environment are also top ten in Kenya, bringing its healthcare to its knees, according to deaths registered in Kenya’s Civil Registration Department. The latest data, 2014, ranks Malaria as the leading killer in Kenya claiming 22,948 lives. Cancer (21,640) and Tuberculosis (10,986).

Globally, 12.6 million people died in 2012 as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment, representing 23 per cent of all deaths. Children are most affected because the genesis of their lifetime problems start when a pregnant are exposed to factors such as radiation, polluted.

Women registered the most musculoskeletal injuries—related to bones, bones and part of the body that coordinate movement— due to travelling far and wide to fetch water for domestic use.


  1. Living in healthy environments will save lives, and money, as diseases that thrive in unhealthy environments get dehorned.
  2. It is a collaborative effort. The government owes you a sanitation system, but you have to dump your waste properly, minimize on waste. The government owes you water, but its your duty to ensure you take it when its clean.
  3. PREVENTION, PREVENTION. Try as much as you can NOT to get sick. Do not expose your body to harmful stuff when it already has air pollution, stress and all that to deal with. Stay healthy, and that does not need millions of money.


Why every woman needs a memoir… Why mine will be explosive

I have been in a really dark corner lately. I have not been able to write, sing or sew. I am happy that I am slowly regaining my connection with my art. Blogging helps. So last year, I had the privilege of covering one of the most monumental events in global development history:the 70th General Assembly United Nations in Newyork. When I landed in Newyork, it suddenly hit me that I was Kenyan and that I had nothing to make me stand out as such. Code 254. The marathoners. The motherland of art. So, in the company of one of Kenya’s delegate(an MP), while strolling on the streets, I dropped by a tailoring shop. After haggling and paying a little money, I convinced the owner of the shop to let me use his sewing machine and made me a quick fabric flowers with Kenyan flag colours.

Taken from my Instagram. The flower that represented in Newyork City
Taken from my Instagram. The flower that represented in Newyork City

In the evening, still in the company of this MP, and exhausted from going through documents with such jaw breaking terms, we dropped at a bar. There was karaoke, and with the cowboy hat of the MC I was singing “Honey I’m home” by Shania Twain. Surprised, he asked “so where did you learn to do all these things?”. I really wanted to tell him how I’d stumbled on my arts. The sewing, in the early 90s confined to immobility after a near fatal fall from a tree, and I’d been left to recover near a tailor in remote K’anyidoto in Ndhiwa. The tailor, still my friend to date, started inviting me to sew buttons. Then zippers. Then a whole dress. My music and writing were a tool to overcome the darkness of living through a difficult and an abusive childhood. As I grew up, the tailoring took glamorised stance through reading magazines, watching cable TV and hanging around designers like Rialto’s Lucy Rao.

I chuckle whenever I think about these thing.  Last weekend, I was with one of my Godfathers (I have two), a pastor, and I asked him why he brought me up with this guilt and dread of sex and feminine beauty. The old man freaked out and began reassuring me. “Veroh”, he began “it’s okay if you’re pregnant, I’ll be disappointed but…”  When he learnt that he was far beyond the theme, we burst out laughing. “My methods, no matter how crude, worked and God will reward me for a job well done it’s not easy raising girls”, he said. Then I was like “Yea, old man your methods were crude”. Then we laugh some more. These here,these moments, where you take each other’s hands and walk back to the past from where we draw inspiration, lessons and insight… These are what I live for.

You look back into the past. For insight, joy, lessons. PHOTO/ Sandra Ruong'o
You look back into the past. For insight, joy, lessons. PHOTO/ Sandra Ruong’o

Recollections are important. For a woman, it’s a chance to carry out a post-mortem of your life and really be honest with yourself. Take responsibility for the wrongs done to you or those you’ve done to others. Accept that there are habits that you need to “unlearn”,courage you need to garner to confront your ghosts. That looks like a full time job, right? It is, but you do it too. We all do it. It’s just that maybe you’re not as deliberate about it as I am. Then there is the sentimental bastardy: the man who’s kiss you’ll never forget, the one who ripped your fragile heart out of your chest and put it under his sole… Godamned it!

My late father, Charles Okeyo, and I were great friends. He worked at the flower farms in Naivasha and our schedules during my teenage years were so far apart. I would leave very early in the morning for school before he woke up but we needed to communicate. So we would write on an exercise book on issues like “I’ve left your breakfast on the table” or “yesterday you didn’t spread your bed properly dad, improve” and stuff like that. Later, and as I grew older, the exercise book mutated to a safe place where I would tell my father about my fears, expectations and observations for the day. Looking at the fragments of that torn book now, at 28, I am acutely aware of the careful way in which my uneducated father chose his words to speak to fourteen year old me. 

See each of us has grown through stuff that make us who we are. Some have caused us great anguish and astronomical levels of pain. Like TD Jakes, I choose to see them as “beautiful hurts”.  Without them, I wouldn’t have known who I really am. Without these pains, there wouldn’t be a promotion of some sort in your life. Pain, anger and offences are an inevitable part of life. So should you learn to coalesce it, you can mine them for growth. A caterpillar had to die before a butterfly with all its glorious colour came into being, right?

It's a chance to grow. To confront your ghosts PHOTO /Sandra Ruong'o
It’s a chance to grow. To confront your ghosts.PHOTO /Sandra Ruong’o

So I am following in the footsteps of my mentor cultural analyst and author Dr Joyce Nyairo. I am going to, as she says, “document, document and document” my 28 years. As all artistes gathering the courage to let people learn from it, criticise and have a history. I’m going to go back to the notes my father and I shared. I’ve kept my diaries and the little notes my friends sent me in high school… Recollection. 

This book may not earn me a lot of money (not that I would mind having a heavy bank account)  but the greatest payment would be feedback that someone whose life has been lived in circumstances such as mine would pick a bullet point on going through life. It’s also a historical moment for me,for my readers. I lived through a musical explosion in South Nyanza where “chomeka”  discos became as famous as Kenya’s father of Benga music,Collela. 

I am excited. I hope you will be too.


John: please don’t let death take me

Dear reader, you know I owe you stories even when they’re typed from a phone like now. So let me tell you what my little brother told me when he asked me for a facial scrub and I responded with “what’s that?”. He said: “Siz, this is the reason you’re still single I swear” The nerve of that little brat. I know. Let me give you the chance to express your disappointment in your miss scribe here. I normally roll my eyes when I am disappointed so you can roll your eyes.

I am those girls. Those ones whose wardrobes have more combat boots than heels. The ones who will show up on a romantic date in jeans. Not because I intended it but because I am that annoyingly informal. Well my friend and baby sister Sandra is a deep contrast of what I am so she had been coming to my rescue. You can go to my Instagram and see how I am putting my best foot forward in make up and dresses thanks to her. 

Be that as I may, there is something you cannot resist about me. It will pull you people to me like a magnet. It will make you overlook every other flaw and make you want to know who this woman is. That is…drum rolls… My dreadlocks! I knoooow right? Come on. Do not be mean. Look at those pictures on my Instagram and tell me you don’t feel excited by those locks. Is there anything sexier than a dark skinned woman with a heavy Luo accent in dreadlocks? It is irresistible! Ask Bob Collynmore what he saw in Wambui. I swear it could have played a part in Wangari Maathai’s Nobel peace prize. But you know something? I wouldn’t even tell you how old my dreadlocks are. John would. Yes John. Readers, please wave to my friend and stylist (yeah I have one too) John Mmata.

Stylist John. Picture/John’s Facebook page

He works at D’s salon based at Uganda House in Nairobi’s Central Business District. I met John in 2014 when I saw another lady whose hair he had styled and gathered courage ask for referral. When I called him up,the courteous way in which he talked to me pulled me to his salon an I have never left. John is polite, professional and most of all very attentive.

I cannot remember when I made deliberate decision to go to the salon. John reminds me. He knows I am a professional woman and needs to look like one even though the gene of spending time before the mirror is unobtrusively present within me. He would call me saying “Verah I know your hair is shaggy, and you’re walking into interviews and in the office looking weird, and you’re spoiling my work because when you will be asked you will say that shaggy hair was styled by me. I have been counting. You were here two months ago so can you please come now I am free and that is an order”. Then it would hit me oh by the way I heard my male colleague remark about the shaggy hair this morning. I’d walk to D’s Salon and start sleeping while seated. He would wake me up an hour later to ask me to take the juice he served. I’d chugallug it and sleep again and wake up an hour later with a washed, treated, conditioned and styled hair. I swear to you if you asked me what wax he uses on it, I wouldn’t know. What spray, oil… I don’t know. John knows what hair products are good for my scalp,how tight my hair should be pulled and what style would hide the forehead the good lord blessed me with.

Now my hair is shaggy now but I can’t have it done because John is incapacitated. For a year I have watched him move from one hospital to another. One time they said it was ulcers. Then it was some jaw-breaking name pancrese. There was diet to be changed. He obeyed all that as he was being directed. He just lost weight and his stomach ache worsened. Now doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital found a solution to his problems. Gallstones. He is scheduled for surgery next week to save his life. He needs Sh100,000(about 1,000USD) for this operation. He should have saved for a rainy day, right? He did. It got depleted within the year of misdiagnosis.

John has a young family. He has big dreams for his business and the only impediment between him and those ambitions is his health. I would like you to save his life. Whatever little you can spare, Sh100 (a dollar) please send it to John.
Below is his number:
Mpesa 0722614337
If you’re abroad and would like to help please use my PayPal: okeyoverah@gmail.com registered to Veronicah Okeyo.

In the meantime, look at his great work

My bohemian self in John’s dreadlocks.

Patriarchy still hurting women with HIV in South Nyanza,Kenya

It has been a while since I published an article here on my blog or the paper that I work for. I’ve been working on a project that has so many sources from whom clarification has to be sought, so many studies to give different views to a cultural issue….I am drained of material and emotional resources. 

Be that as it may, this assignment took me back home to the rural area where I trace my paternity: Kenya’s South Nyanza, a small village called K’anyidoto in Ndhiwa Constituency. By the way I am typing from a phone so forgive some spelling mistakes you may encounter.

As a journalist, I have to always make a concious decision not to use my experiences to cloud my judgement and perception when I am discharging my duties. So right now, seated here going through the footage of what I did in the day, I can’t help but compare (at least mentally) what it meant to spend portions of my childhood here and what it is now for the women who live here. I’ve reached one conclusion:Being a woman in this community is difficult. Yes wait for it. Those patriotic Luos are about to ask me to produce a study to back up my claim. As if statistics are supposed to rubbish the experience of one woman. The irrational ones will tell me I’ve lived around the Kikuyu for too long that I compare the Luo to them. If only the prevalence of HIV, and incidence too, weren’t so high in this region! (About 25 per cent in Homabay County, Kenya Aids Indicator Survey)

Regardless of what oppositions I may face about what I am talking about, I have every right to talk about this right here, right now. Contrary to what I look like and talk (all deadlocked, tattooed and cursing sometimes) this community taught me about being a homemaker.

Even now that I came, I did not need to be reminded about where to go get the traditional vegetables, how to slaughter chicken and make a meal for a 12 people in less than an hour on a three-stone stoves. Here meals are served on a huge table, prepared without the luxuries of cooking oil or tomatoes but boy aren’t they sumptuous! There are secret recipes that you would never know unless you grew up here. The women who taught me and any other girl who grew up here may not even appreciate the complex process of the things they’re able to produce in less than an hour…Mo moleny(some edible oil made from milk cream), Chak mopuo(natural yoghurt). Nyuka abagi, (fermented porridge), mok bel arega (wheat flour that you kneel on a traditional mill and make with your hands)… If I were to list the nutritional names for them I’d publish a book.Oh and it’s interesting how the meals are categorised… The one for the breastfeeding woman…the food to give to a man that underperforms in bed…You must also remember the process of serving the food and it’s surprising that today I still let the man wash his hands before me as my culture dictates even though I believe in equality. It also shocks me that I’d keep a man company until he finished his meals, then and only then would I go wash my hands. So I am not relying on studies published in some peer reviewed journal to make my inference.

When I come here they call me Nyar K’onyango (a daughter of Onyango’s clan). And as I begin my conversations with my people, I find reason to justify the confrontational way with which most Luo women have to deal with issues. At a home in Kamenya village, a husband hid his wife’s antiretrovirals. He thought she had become too proud since she joined the Aids support group. At the group, she was told eating cassava is good for their health. She went home to try out a different menu. When the meal was served, he asked why they’re having corn meal made of cassava flour and maize, she had started responding: “ne opuonjwa e chokruok..” (we were taught at the group…) No sooner had she mentioned the group than the man landed on her with blows blaming the group for rearranging the order in his house. It was appalling to me that the husband was a high school teacher with adequate knowledge to know about what good nutrition is. That is when he hid her ARVs.

Knowing what discontinuing her medication meant, she reported to the chief. She’d tried reporting to her parents-in-law the first time this happened last year but the process of reconciliation had taken too long she’d feared for her health. At the chief, she was reminded about the need to “take things slowly” to know what language “soothes her husband’s heart”. A meeting was organised by the elders. A week later. Her husband did not show up. When it finally took place (which happened to have been the day I was here) the woman was warned against “not consulting”. She was cautioned against “taking family matters to strangers”. I listened from behind the room hiding behind the papyrus reed mat that separated the rooms because I wasn’t allowed to come to where elders talked.

Here,a woman needs to “talk nicely” and beg for such basic needs that are rightfully hers and a benefit of the people in that community. Why should a woman beg to be allowed to take drugs for diseases that are a public health concern such as Tuberculosis and HIV? I always questioned the Kenya Demographic Survey 2014 data where women said they couldn’t access healthcare because “they had not been given permission”. I asked Mourine from Ligodho why she hadn’t gone to have her ca checked since she is positive and is well aware of TB being infectious at the first few weeks. She answered: Wuon parwa owacho ni abiro dhi next week (The head of my thoughts said I’d go next week). She could cycle to the facility actually. Remember the knowledge of HIV here is nearly 100 per cent. This society knows what is at stake. 

This is a community that teaches women to put men on a pedestal and still punish them for being so obedient. While growing up, I saw my mother get really physical to defend my sister and I on issues such as the need to consult (for months) on whether my sister would go to the school she was admitted to. Not that they will pay anything for her fees. It’s just that you’re women and you can’t think on your own. This is the community where widows and orphans are robbed of the little they have been left as the society watches in silence.
Hiding of ARVs is one thing but there are rumours that I have heard of acts bordering on criminality that women have to put up with.

While progress has been made on women’s rights, we need to make noise about some of the issues that happen to women in rural south Nyanza as people hold “meetings to reach amicable solutions”. We need not have a discussion about why women shouldn’t be taking their ARVs given to them by the government for free. It’s not pride it’s a public health concern.

Thumbi Mwangi: Disease-causing pathogens talk to each other

Last year, I participated in nominating a professional for the prestigious Aspen Institute New Voices Fellowship. My candidate did not make it. Naturally, I became curious about the Kenyan that had beaten my nominee to the price. That is when and how I met veterinary epidemiologist Thumbi Mwangi. When I read his name, I rolled my eyes and thought “People should consider us Nilotes when they chose names for their children…his name takes a ceremony to pronounce! ”

Yet meeting Thumbi Mwangi was a much needed reminder of an unwritten rule for me as a journalist: That I have to allow myself to flow with what comes in and out of my days; That I have to approach every subject with an open mind; that it is in conversations that the story directs me to what is most important, the silent voices that should be amplified because they have been hushed by the sensationalism that characterise journalism in these parts of the world.

Prof Thumbi Mwangi, veterinary epidemiologist and a member of One Health Initiative. PHOTO/WSU

I emailed him with that “selfish” he-could-be-a-story attitude. Boy didn’t he live up to it. He scared me when he told me that Rabies—gotten from a dog bite… or scratch— is 100 per cent fatal once the clinical signs start manifesting. Quoi! He also drew my attention to a subject so crucial to human health, yet so underreported: Zoonoses, diseases that come to man from animals. I must also mention that it is in the course of this meeting that I learnt about Kenya’s Zoonotic Disease Unit (ZDU),very few of such in Africa or the world by the way. After two weeks, the initial interest about why he made it to the fellowship over my nominee sublimed to the background, and the publication of a detailed piece on Zoonoses in Kenya in the Daily Nation came to the fore.

It could be modesty or shyness, but whatever it is the Professor does not like to be reffered to as “Professor”. His Twitter handle has a handful followers mostly of people pooled from his field. “Social media? Oh that is a great platform for those that have the grace,” he said. He says he likes racket games, though. That should act as a saving grace in a profile that would have fit the perfect “boring scientist” narrative. However, it is incredible that such a travelled person is so rural-bred. He was born in Kieni in Nyeri County. From St Martins Boys Hostel, he went to Njiiri School for hi O-levels and found himself in the University of Nairobi (UoN) pursing bachelors in Veterinary medicine and surgery in 2000. While at UoN, he met Prof Kiama Gitahi who is the current director of UoN’s Wangari Maathai for Peace and Environmental Studies.

Picking from his description of Prof Kiama, I gathered that Thumbi considers him (Kiama) a mentor. With a tinge of poignancy, he said: “He gave us a Continuous Assessment Test, I passed and he asked me to see him”. From that meeting, many opportunities would present themselves to the young ambitious Thumbi. He worked at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Then he pursued interests in small and large animals as well as ranching to as far as Botswana, before getting a scholarship from UoN to pursue a post graduate degree on genetic and animal breeding. Another scholarship would present itself from International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Later, he joined Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, his interests narrowed to epidemiology. His passion earned him a post-doctoral research opportunity at Washington State University, where he teaches and holds a position as a clinical assistant professor.

As a story teller (do we even tell stories in science?), I was most intrigued by his work during his doctoral studies. The conversation began with: “We are most interested in pathogens as a harm to people and animals, but rarely do we study how these organisms interact”. There wet my “aha!” moment. My internal dialogue was like “Wait! So protozoans and all those jaw breaking names I read in Binomial nomenclature class in Biology not only cause diseases that kill, but also talk to each other?” I need to listen to that recording again to get the scientific terms right, but I heard of how a cow gets infected with some pathogen which in turn protects it from another harmful pathogen. That is like saying if your child gets malaria, do not treat it because the malaria parasite is going to protect it from some other common disease. I know, right? Then there were organisms that we should just label as hoes. I mean how could they be able to live in so many domestic and wild animals and still be able to reside in a human body so as to make us sick.

You know what journalists lack in knowledge, they make up for with an unhealthy amount of reading. So I scoured the internet, books and outdated magazines about disease patterns. Let us start with the most basic mind-blowing nugget that the literature gave me. Did you know that 60 per cent of the pathogens that cause infectious diseases in human beings come from animals (WHO)? Then there was Thumbi’s paper published at Plos One that drew a direct line from healthy animals to happier, healthier and wealthier farmers and their families. Wouldn’t it be economically sound if farmers were taught these things?

So with all that, it is understandable why Thumbi champions One health Initiative. This is a global program where many scientists and other professionals advance the idea that human, animal and ecological health are intimately linked and need to be studied and managed as a whole unit. I think I should join  it too… to design posters to announce the latest research. So, thanks to technology, I met a scientist to ask him about one thing and I got the opportunity to be pointed to so many possible stories that could be told, all from his research.

Thumbi is a visiting scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), a visiting lecturer at Wangari Maathai Institute for Environmental Studies and Peace where he teaches and supervises graduate students. He also works closely with ZDU.

Is there something wrong with Bi Mswafari’s counsel?

As we grow up, we have these ideals about life. We swear “I would never do that”. Well, life, and God or whatever super power you believe in, has a sense of humour that will make you eat your words. We usually have everything planned out including how we will handle disappointments in relationships, marriages and all that. I have learnt in my two and half decades of living that it is good to be flexible and fluid.

I put up a post on my Facebook page about the pressure that Bi Mswafari puts on both genders. The response, as expected, was amazing. The commenters on my post, mostly men, shied away from the topic at hand and resorted to personal attacks. Some thought my having dreadlocks was a sign of rebellion. One commenter said that women who disagree with Bi Mswafari are the ones “who are used and dumped thoroughly”. You know the saddest thing about that statement is that the commenter is going to be, or already is, someone’s father or husband.

Bi Mswafari. PHOTO/Internet

Before we go on, let me introduce my readers from the diaspora to Bi Mswafari. Bi (that is a very respectful Swahili term for Miss or Ma’am) Mswafari graces our screens over the weekends and offers sound pieces of advice on being proper wives to our husbands. Occasionally, she will mention in passing what it means to be a proper husband. You can watch some of her teachings here.

I want to let you in my beliefs on family a little bit…
My mother –may her soul rest in peace—was a nurse and a business woman. She was a woman way ahead of her time. My dad was a tall kind and gentle class three drop out, whose first job was being a watchman in the flower farms where we grew up. In her very old truck, mama left her clinics every evening to come see to it that she was the one to serve my daddy his meals. She was the type of woman who removed her husband’s shoes whenever he came home and asked him to tell her about what interesting thing happened in the farm that day. Originally from Tanzania, it was naturally for her to respond to my father’s call with “Naam Mume wangu” (Yes, my husband). I cannot remember a single day our very large family had tea with bread. It was always mama’s pancakes, donuts, boiled cassavas or some homemade meals. My mother also sew all of our clothes, her curtains, bedding and mats. Every end of the month, I would see her and daddy sit on the table, calculating how they would divide the responsibilities at hand. The two would ask us “Verah what is your fee this term? Your dad will shop for you and your sister, I will pay the fee. Allan, I will shop for you and daddy will pay your fees”. Yes, that is how I, and my late sister, was brought up to treat men and run a home.

Yet Rosemary Akinyi Okeyo, just as the women she brought up, suffered no fools. She did not tolerate being stepped on just because she was a woman. Anybody that dared was rightfully, and effectively, put in his/her place.
With that background, I will tell you why I have a problem with Bi Mswafari’s teaching. She does not lay the responsibility on either of the genders  for the wrong things they do to their families.

Unfair to women…
I remember one day, Bi Mswafari told us that when little girls dress provocatively in the house, they tempt the man in that house to rape. And I wondered, don’t men have some  restraint for themselves? Can’t they have this sort of inner dialogue: “this is a challenge that I need to work through, and decide what will be good for me and those around me?” How does raping an improperly dressed daughter, or beating a loud mouthed wife, or leaving a fat woman who has borne you children to move to a younger one going to solve the problem? She allows men to get away with so much evil because she reinforces the silly cowardly excuses those men hide behind. In this day and age, you cannot tell me that my husband will gamble away all the money we have toiled for to educate our children and then when he comes home I “Lainisha sauti yangu nyororo ili nitoe nyoka pangoni” (make my voice tender that it can call the snake out of the hole). My love, you will join the snake in that hole.

She makes women look like servants to the men they married. It is not her fault she is being abused and neglected. Haven’t we seen men who are married to Mother Teresa with bodies looking like Halle Berry and still go out to look for stinking disorderly losers who only care about how much he has made for the day and wouldn’t give a damn whether he dropped dead? Did you know studies have shown that some people just because they want to? Read this book by clinical psychologist Janis Spring. There are people who are happy at home, their wives are amazing, they just want to be assholes. Then when they are caught, being the cowards that they are, they hide behind blame games. Then the women in their lives always have to walk on eggshells, trying so hard to be the perfect human being whose mistakes can cause her to be abandoned, ridiculed, infected with some weird disease or even be killed. I am not an expert on relationships as I have failed in many myself, but I suppose the success of any marriage will require a loyalty and some sort of understanding of what the reality is.

As your wife, I work to supplement your income. The job I have may be so draining. When I come home, I have to attend to the children, make sure you are fed and your clothes are ready for tomorrow. Then maybe I am the type who worries that your mother is diabetic and cannot miss her treatments, so I have to make those phone calls and visits… where do I, pray do tell, get the extra strength to dress sexy, pole dance and sing Kumbayah for you? It therefore becomes such an unfair treatment that a man stepped out because “my wife had not time for me”
Unfair to men…
The partiachy that Bi Mswafari propagates is going to be the the downfall of men in Kenya. In fact, I feel so sorry for them when I see them nodding in agreement with her and giggling like green geckos. There is nothing wrong with a man being the head of the house. God designed it that way. However, there is everything wrong when this position is brutally rammed down our throats, demanding that a man becomes Super man when the society does not even have kryptonite. Why should a man just be an ATM machine? He cannot cry. He cannot say he is tired. He cannot express his hurts and pains.

Now there is a breed of women her in Kenya who will never work. She knows women make half of this country’s population and she sees nothing wrong with seating her ass down, to be fed, clothed, dined and wined. So the man will break her back to take care of her outragous needs and when he is not able to give to her, she will call him a dog. This woman is nice, only when there is money. For money, she will go to outrageous lengths. She will get pregnant for unavailable married or committed men and then run to the courts seeking child support. So what happens to the hustler male? You tell me. I have written those stories, where a man wakes up one day and he cannot take the pressure any more and kills all his family members. I got two brothers and two nephews who I don’t want to see go through this you-are-a-man bullshit.

Bi Mswafari has to teach women that the world has changed. Resources are scarce and they cannot dedicate their energies to reminding a grown ass man that he is super man so that they have their needs met. Men cannot also work their ass all day to take care of a grown woman with a degree sometimes. That is such an unhealthy balance. God did not create these roles so that a man abuses the woman or a woman misuses the man. Let us just see each other as a human being. This “as a wo(man)” is the cause of all these marriages breaking down all the time.

WHAT DO YOU FIND WRONG/GOOD ABOUT BI MSWAFARI’S COUNSEL? EMAIL  talktoverah@gmail.com or WhatsApp 0732324609

Difficult sources of information every young journalist must learn to handle

One day my colleague John Ngirachu told me “If you want to do well in this career, you must learn how to handle big egos”. One of the other requirements of this job is listening to your sources of information. You listen to what is (or not) being said in words and body language. In the process of listening you will meet very difficult characters. There are two reasons why people are difficult sources of information several reasons: one, they are afraid of journalists or two, they do not know how the media works. Once you know the reason behind their actions, you can build a long term relationship and get your stories every day.

  1. Mr/Ms know-it-all who thinks journalists are bimbos

You must not fail to add to that article that… I don’t think you can understand what I am saying it is too complicated for a person outside the engineering circles… How are you going to write about fashion and you do not know who Karen Millen is…? How can you ask such a basic question, didn’t you do your research? I don’t think that is the article you should be working on, why don’t you write about…?

Those are some of the questions I have encountered in my three years in the newsroom. It is easy to assume that Mr/Miss Know-It-All may just a proud prick with an inflated ego, but maybe s/he had a past interview with a journalist and got disappointed. Maybe that journalists watered down the interesting bits of a subject about to such basic pedestrian knowledge that Mr/Miss know-it-all was so embarrassed to be associated with such common knowledge that everybody has on the tips of their fingers.

Me in 2014, in Machakos listening to a researcher and a Public Relations Officer explain their concerns about a study to me

The worst move here would be to engage in ego-competition. Do not, and I repeat do not blow your own trumpet about your own qualifications to assure Mr/Miss Know-It-All that “you got this”. I was tempted to tell another upcoming fashion designer that I have been a tailor way before she joined Facebook and I could tell her not only who Karen Millen is but who manufactures her fabrics. Instead, make your source know that you value the knowledge they bring to the table (even when it does not exist). I told her “You are right. These things about fashion are not for every Tom, Dick and Harry. I have googled since yesterday night in preparation for this interview and I was hoping I could learn a thing or two about the subject from a household name in the industry like you. I hope I can ask for any clarification on an issue I don’t understand?” Believe me when I say, she will take it upon herself to educate you. In future Mr/Miss Know-it-All will even take it upon herself to let you know of an interesting bit if info in her circles that she thinks you may write about.

2. The skeptical send-me-the-article-before-you-go-to-press kind.

Researchers and public relations officers are especially fond of this: asking you to send the article after you finish writing so that “they can ensure you have all the facts right”. It is not only against editorial policies of many media houses, it makes you wonder whether the source knows you will deliberately not get the facts right. I understand them. Scientists, scholars and researchers have invested 10 or more years to be who they are. Dr A, Prof B are not just titles. In the quest for “hooking the reader” and simplicity to communicate jargon and hard scientific data to the common reader, journalists have communicated something totally different from what the scientist meant. Let me give you an example. A Proffesor has been researching about a drug that may cure AIDS for 15 years. He is still awaiting clinical trials of the drug and approvals and all that. Then a journalist begins his story this way “A Kenya professor has found a cure for AIDS”. Just that one word and that professor has lost all the respect in his circles and, maybe, funding and that would be the end of his career. So what do you do with Skeptical sources? Explain why you cannot send them the article. Offer to email back what he said only. Tell them that you have a lot to lose too should you report on the wring thing: you could get fired, sued and most importantly, you will lose your credibility.



EMAIL ME okeyoverah@gmail.com and cc talktoverah@gmail.com or WhatsApp me +245732324609






Medic of the month,Dr Juliana Otieno: I don’t tolerate excuses on health

Last year, my colleagues Eunice Kilonzo, Jacqueline Kubania and I set on out on a journey to audit public healthcare in Kenya especially after devolution. The stories, like a doctor so busy she couldn’t have a minute for a meal and the neglect of mentally ill, broke our hearts. However, in the midst of the dread and gloom, we met medics whose style of management was as much a story as the facilities they were heading. In Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral Hospital in Kisumu (famously known as Russia), I met Juliana Otieno, a pediatrician and the medical superintendent of the facility. On a motorbike to see her, I thought about the studies that states that hospitals are better when run by medical doctors. That, to me, was a conflicting piece of information because I had just left other hospitals not so far away from Russia run by medical doctors and the deplorable conditions that they were in were appalling.

Under her care, Russia has improved tremendously especially on matters of hygiene. During my two-day rounds at the facility, I learnt that Dr Juliana—yeah that’s how we call her in the newsroom— had not been spared of the hiccups that came with devolution. Be that as it may, the pediatrician had learnt about the value of “beneficial friendships and contacts”: some of the successful projects in Russian are funded by people she had met in her postgraduate studies or along her career.

Dr Juliana Otieno, medical superintendent at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral Hospital in Kisumu during the interview on May, 24 2015 in her office

Russia’s state of the art Ksh28million (about 274,000 USD) Intensive Care Unit was partly funded by the government and technology company General Electric. The Renal Unit was funded by the Taiwanese and the Kenyan government. The renal unit also has water treatment system from the Kenya Commercial Bank. My favourites were the new maternity, new born unit and Obama Children’s clinic. As a deputy medical superintendent in this very hospital in 2004, Juliana had met the Norwegian queen who visited the facility on matters related to HIV. Juliana, and her colleagues, had sought the royalty’ assistance to construct the maternity and the newborn unit whose value is estimated to be Sh75million. Being a pediatrician, it’s understandable that the Obama Children’s ward in Russia is semi-autonomous well run clinic where children get free treatment with the comfort for both mother and child guaranteed. The Obama clinic was partly built by Americans, the Walter Reed Project. Of the Walter Reed folks, she told me: “They had stayed here for so long researching about malaria and when they were just about to leave we asked them what they would leave in Kenya and they agreed to help with the Obama Children’s hospital”. Obama runs with great assistance from Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

Entrance to the pediatric children in Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral facility in Kisumu

Before meeting her, I had been told that Dr Juliana does not “suffer fools” especially when the fool is a journalist. So I called her. I informed her that I would like to talk to her. I also told her that I was not coming for the interview tabula rasa as I had gathered information about the inadequacies of the  hospitals that I wanted her to give me a few answers for. To my surprise, and in a matter-of-fact attitude she told me: “I did not expect you to find a palace, it is a hospital but whatever challenges that are there are being worked on, a lot has changed and I have absolutely nothing to hide. Come to my office tomorrow at 10.”

To the office I went. Juliana looked into my eyes and told me I had 45 minutes. She said as she asked the secretary to make me tea: “Here, time is of essence, it always and literally is a matter of life and death, Verah”. Her gaze was imploring yet very attentive, direct yet very inquisitive that I must admit it intimidated me. Her statements were straight and curt. Earlier during my information gathering period, I got a mixture of feelings about her from workers in Russia. Most felt she was too strict, never listening to opinions that differed from hers but peculiarly enough they did not want her replaced. “She gets the job done,” one had told me.

In our conversation, I got the feeling that she is a guarded woman but also very honest in a way that  allows you to connect with her, at least for purposes of a genuine conversation. I understood that deep contrast by the bits and pieces of her life that she dropped in between the chat. A first born of eight, Juliana learnt about being responsible for a large number of people at an early age as she grew up in Muhoroni. “There was milking before school, fetching water and cooking and of course, being asked where you were as an elder sister when your junior siblings were making mistakes,” she said. When she passed her national primary examinations, her father could not raise the Sh4,000 (That is hundreds of thousands right now) needed for her to join Limuru Girls. The community gathered, fundraised and she went to school. “That is why I grew up with the resolution that, for matters such as education and health, I will give back to the community and to a genuine case,” she said.  She went on to take her bachelors degree in medicine at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 1979, graduating a year later because of the 1982 coup attempt. She took her postgraduate studies at UoN in pediatric medicine. Apart from working in the civil service, Juliana has taken part in research in Europe, America and various countries in Africa.

a mother of three biological children “and so many others that are just mine but I never gave birth to”, she says she raised her children the very same way she was raised and the way she relates to her colleagues. “I just have to let you know I am not the enemy but I do not expect laxity even in that love,” she said.

Her tips for being the professional of her cadre are straight forward. “Do not cheat me. If you feel that tea will take ten minutes to make, say so. Do not make me come asking for it fifteen minutes later.”

“I tell every healthcare worker to do the best they can with what is available regardless of the circumstances. I know there is pressure, and we are understaffed but do not tell me you yelled at a patient because you were under pressure.”

She said she did not understand the job-hopping of younger people who are always  “claiming to be too busy they cannot even mentor one person”.   She said: “Stay at a point and learn. Oh I know my job and my work place intimately. I interned here, have climbed up the ladders in this very hospital so whenever I am told there is mischief, I do not need an investigator because I know this hospital from corner to corner and I will leave my office, walk to this place and unearth those hidden drugs or whatever is missing”

me drinking water
Interviewing Juliana was so tough I drank a whole bottle of water when I was done…the struggle is real ehehehe

Juliana says she enjoys Benga music, walking barefoot in her farm in Seme and farming.

DO YOU HAVE A PROFESSIONAL YOU ADMIRE? LET ME MEET HER (OR HIM) talktoverah@gmail.com or WhatsApp 0732324609

Sexual intimacy and the lessons I picked from 2015

Dear readers,

Merry Christmas. I sincerely hope something beautiful was born in your life alongside Jesus. I am typing from my phone, lying on my bed, immensely grateful that I am here. 2015 is a year I am going to remember as an oxymoron:It was bitter and yet from the bitterness, came such growth. It’s the year I also turned 28,a very monumental age for a woman. The lessons in 2015 are things I would be proud to tell another young woman someday.

1.Don’t be too careful that you miss out in life…it’s okay not to get it right all the time

When you’ve lived a life such as mine, you learn not to take anything for granted. When an opportunity is given to you, no matter how little, you embrace it. You are careful not to ruin friendships and break trusts. You go out of your way to make the most out of the generosity accorded to you. Sometimes,your obedience to doing what is right is the fear to disappoint those who have believed in you when you had no potential. Sometimes it’s because you know that,unlike other young people, you have no mother or father who will come cleaning after you.

I plan everything. From how long a conversation in a date will be to what topics you and I will talk about. I dig about my interviewees that sometimes I even know what they are allergic to by the time I get there. I always ask editors in the newsroom, “Do you have any special instructions for stories you edit just before I submit mine?”I love order and being in control of every aspect of my life.


Here is the problem with this type of life. I have become too cautious, too careful and guarded that you miss out on friendships that would have been very beneficial for me because I was busy analysing whether the person has that rare trait of a serial killer. I take years planning, analysing and consulting for something as little as deciding what fabric I should buy for sewing my next line of dresses. I have become afraid of challenging myself because I don’t want to make a mistake. So I don’t learn anything beyond my ambit. I don’t err yet mistakes refine people, strengthens their resolve in life. So here’s to 2016 where we will practise caution but also allow ourselves to make mistakes and learn from them.

2. Wear designer names… First impressions do matter

Nobody knows the health of an economy betterthan a young graduate from a modest background like me. There’s never money to buy food, let alone proper clothing. So you become reliant on sampled second hand shoes, bags and hairstyles. Believe it or not there are suits that may cost as little as Sh500 (about 5USD). There’s nothing wrong with that. Except, as my mentor Zipporah Musau would say, people can smell cheap from a far. Your potential employer, investor or even spouse will smell needy from miles. So let’s learn not to fill our wardrobes with 60 dresses that you can’t even wear to statehouse to meet the president. Gather all those little monies that you use on second hand clothes and get just one good expensive bag, shoe or suit that will never give anyone a chance to mistake you for a pedestrian 🚶 professional.

3. My love life  affects my career… Am not dating /marrying a bum

I met Janet Wainaina from UkenTv. In the conversation Janet dropped me a line about coupling  that has always been dropped by my godmother Dorothy.”Verah you’re aggressive, honest and driven. If you marry a man who will not talk about health or economics with this much depth, you’ll be frustrated.” That hit me hard because I have only dated one man my whole life (That’s our little secret readers)  and when the relationship ended I was quite disappointed at myself for not being able to concentrate on my work.

Studies have shown a correlation between between successful women and the men they marry. So let’s take a step back from the usual parameters with which we judge a partner in Kenya (money, class, looks and that first physical reaction when you see them) and look at other features. Dependability. Honesty. Supportive. Integrity. So, I will take my time because investing in a man is as serious a decision as my graduate studies.

4. Say “No” to people, family and friends sometimes…take care of yourself

In Kenya, and in my Luo community,young men and women are brought up to be altruistic. Sadly, this noble principle that was meant to save widowsand orphans from  starvation is abused. You find yourself carrying emotional and the financial burdens that drain you yet they are not even yours to carry in the first place.

I work very hard,dear readers, but this year I found myself in debt and borrowing money left, right and centre to take care of something as little as my hair because I used my money taking care of another grown human being’s responsibilities. I found myself too tired emotionally and taking prescription pills for depression because I was playing Jesus.

Let’s say this together. “In 2016, I am learning to take care of myself. I am investing in myself emotionally.” We live in a very selfish world where generosity in people is treated as a foolishness that can be exploited. One day I woke up in November and realised 87 per cent of my income was either paying fees for someone with able bodied parents and siblings who could work or bailing out an adult who bought prada instead of paying his rent. It is noble to be philanthropic, but it’s irresponsible to do that and not take care of your own responsibilities.

Take time to pray,for yourself. Take time to eat properly, for you. Say “no” when you can’t do it. Invest in your hobbies, education and intellect because at 40,those very people you’re helping will ask you “you were working all this time, where did you take your money?”

5. Advertise yourself… Your jobs are taken by talentless bimbos as you play modest

You see  there’s a modesty that I was brought up with that sometimes comes out as pride and self assurance but it’s sometimes stupid. There are this Swahili saying “kizuri chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza” which can be losely translated to mean the good things sell and the bad things make the most noise about themselves. I want to ignore this saying a little bit.

Kenyan women who worked hard to get where they are,  intellectually atleast, are so shy to come out there and say “Hey I am soooo good at what I do”. They are waiting to be discovered. In the mean time, the academic dwarves and lazy bimbos aggressively shove themselves on our faces through the mainstream media, blogs and social media that we give them the jobs that you’re playing modest in claiming. I have always dressed so casually because I trust my IQ and believe it will be picked over a short dress or a fake accent. Well, I have learnt that is stupid pride. For my IQ to be noticed, I need a meeting first or the job which I won’t get because the others whose IQs couldn’t let them put up a proposal, wore the power suits, put together whatever little they have achieved and got the interview with the CEO.

Welcome 2016. This year we’re telling the world, loudly and boldly, that we can rock the miniskirt but we can also contribute to the discussion about health as though we worked for World Health Organisation. We’ll analyse music because we can actually read and write music. We will speak against ills that have been normalised in Kenya from an academic angle other quoting platitudes like emotional fools. We will do that because we can.

Tell me, what has 2015 taught you? Talk to me talktoverah@gmail.com or okeyoverah@gmail.com