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.

 

Advertisements

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.

MSWAFARI
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

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.

IMG_7150

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

5 grooming tips Kenyan men need to embrace in 2016

I thought of blogging  about serious medical issues now that we are approaching the season of wanton carnality and debauchery, then I thought #WhatWouldMagufuliDo? Eh. He would have that healthy balance between entertainment and information to educate.

Y’all will agree with me that there is a lot of pop psychology out here on what a woman should do to get and keep her man, but none for men. My brothers, worry not. I have come to your rescue on how you can get and keep your woman by embracing these grooming tips.

Brush, floss, … Don’t make me regret that kiss

A man is painfully handsome, taking my breath away… until he opens his mouth to speak and then I have to call Engineer Wachira to ask whether Olkaria processing plant moved its headquarters to his mouth. Brothers, brush. Learn about how to move that toothbrush properly in your mouth. Then floss, daily. A dental floss is Sh200 and you will use it for a whole year. Cheaper than a bottle of beer. A woman likes to feel the lips of her man on her neck, lips… now are you going to make my hair stand because of excitement or fear of the smell in your mouth?  Then get that spray for fresh breath, its only Sh 150. During the day, spray it a little in your mouth and smile at me eh.

Vest and socks…and boxers

Isn’t it just sad that you wear an expensive shoe, take me to big restaurants and then your  pairs of socks have holes and smell? Cheeei. Tip here:buy a pair of black cotton socks at Sh55 in Tuskys every month…or two if you can afford it. Then wherever you store them (drawer, paper bag or in a bag) you’ll never worry about not matching them because whatever you pick will be black anyway… or brown, or white depending on the colour you choose.  Then wear vests please. It is what traps that sweat on your arm pits and saving us the agony of seeing that ugly patch of sweat on your arm pits. And they are white, usually, so change them every day, don’t let them turn brown. Imagine I want to feel great leaning on your chest when I cry or I’ve missed you. I don’t want to faint. Please pay that attention on your boxers as well

Cologne

Women love a man that smells good. Okay let me speak for myself. Not peaches and mangoes kind of good, no (though I wouldn’t mind 🙂 ) Just that masculine good. I know colognes are expensive but there parfum labels that cost Sh150 or less. I would love to have my man smell of Escape from Calvin Klein but baby I understand Sh 7,000 in this economy is too high. So get Lord or something. You will still smell good after a good shower.

Drink water

I am not going to belabor the medical and nutritional benefits of water. You got to have a smooth face too, that’s water. Let your sweat not smell like a freaking urinal. Water will help with that so drink it. It will also spare me the agony of visiting the toilet after you.

Exercise, eat well and… then go for medical check ups

I want you to live longer. To avoid those scary diseases that come with being sedentary. So exercise. Just skip rope and there are these ten minutes daily work outs you can embrace, they are all over the internet. Exercise also makes you look good and feel confident. No, a pot belly is not a sign of wealth. Maybe wealthy of diseases that will take you from my arms and leave me all cried out Dump that woman who tells you a potbelly is necessary. That bimbo is digging your grave. You see how much you look after your car or phone or laptop? I would like you to pay half of that attention to your health. Just once in six months, visit my friend Ouma Oluga and get checked out. You would be surprised how a simple blood test would lead you in the right direction on what to eat, what to avoid.

Can you add to this list? email me talktoverah@gmail.com or okeyoverah@gmail.com

PSST: Don’t do anything over Christmas that you wouldn’t want to narrate to Jesus should he land now.