Thursday, 8 March 2018

The Feminist that I Know:The Unsung She Hero.

My aunt is the very first feminist I knew as that’s what the names she was called could sum up to. She still is one and I thought her story should not go untold.
Growing up in a small village I had the privilege of growing up in a  very well organized small community . Everyone seemed to be following the same rules and routine and everyone knew everyone. There wasn’t so much activity going on, weekdays were for school and farming with a two market days while Saturdays were for cleaning and Sundays were for church.
As a child I stayed at my grandmother home who together with my aunt raised me up. Now, my aunt was a teacher, a very good  teacher and a well known English teacher. I still remember walking around the village and have every child stop us to great her in English. I also still remember all the extra curriculum English lessons she used to freely offer at our home. My aunt held all her students like her own children. I still remember how she will always buy uniforms for her students and even pay for their stationaries and even fees. She always knew which of her students was coming to school with a hungry stomach and which one had abusive parents. Every now and then she would summon some irresponsible parents at our home, make us save tea and snacks and disappear before she starts lecturing them about parenthood  I was always ears dropping and had my ears  pulled a  bit in a few occasions when she caught me red-handed.

We always had picnics which she organized for the children and youths. As there were not a lot of fun activities around these picnics were always highly anticipated. Kids were always instructed to ask their parents to make them some snacks and of course at home we made even more. I can still smell the rosted  chicken  and maandazi and the cake she would bake for us to share. For the picnics we usually chose a spot at the river or up one of those beautiful hills. There she will talk to us about morals and ethics and one thing I remember is she told us all to always call each other rafiki meaning a friend which became a common name. She composed a song for us as youths to sing for solidarity, unity and respect and it is still in my head. I remember she also organised basic skills classes for her students at our home where she used to teach skills such as cloth making, stitching  baking and other basics for girls such as cleanness and self respect. Every now and then a girl will be called at our house and she would speak to her in a low tone and give her something. Later on in realized she was talking to them about growing up, menstruation and she was  giving them pads. She also had a group of girls come over on Sunday evenings and gave them lessons about self worth, self respect and staying away from sex before marriage. Once in a while she will only call one girl and I will know right there that this particular girl likes boys too much. When in primary school probably class two she called me and some of my classmates and told us to strictly not allow anyone to touch our private parts. Now, this was a bit dramatic  to  us but saved one of us later in life. She told us if someone tries to touch you tell them these are for me and no one else should see them and kick them and run and make sure we tell her. Now later in life I understood her better when I  came to know  that most girls are abused at a very young age and most of the abusers are people they trust including family.

 My aunt  was a very well respected woman and very outspoken . She wasn’t married but our house was always filled with people seeking marriage counseling and the house was also a sanctuary for a lot of widows and abused women and children.  I have lost count of the number of women and kids I happened to stay with before I went off to boarding school. Most men didn’t like her especially the drunkards and irresponsible ones because she was “misleading” their wives to demand for better and to stand their grounds. Later in life when she was about to retire as a teacher she had built another home where she still host women and children who become homeless for different reasons and had no one.

She is a very charismatic, empathic and yet a very strict individual. She was also a representative of women in different political positions and a spokesman of so many women and men as well. There was an incident a community owned farm was about to be sold to one rich man and she fought so hard that she almost lost her life.  She was so brave that when some people came to request her to stop risking her life she showed them the door. That day she sat me down and told me Anna, as you carry my name I would  like you to carry the words I am telling you today, always seek truth and righteousness  and you will always be courageous. Be bold, be confident and above all be humane.
She is a great leader and have the spirit of a teacher. I remember when she found out about the great benefits of the Moringa tree and she went house by house to teach people about it and planted one tree for each house. She planted some along the village pathways as well. She would also organize the villagers to clean the village pathways and keep the place safe for everyone. There are so many incidents where she pioneered for community development activities.

The most remarkable attribute she had was being a mother and a great one as well. My aunt is strict in a loving way and a great disciplinarian. Now as a mother of two I start to understand her methods of discipline.  I remember the day I ate some ripe banana fruits from an old man and she told me to take back a whole load of grass and apologized. On another episode I misbehaved and I was punished to explain what I did and why I did it in English, I rewrote the Incident more than ten times and each time she would correct one line and tell me to go and rewrite it. She always emphasized on reading and she always made sure we had books to read, sometimes we will do it together.

She has one biological daughter but has raised hundreds of girls and boys. I remember naughty kids were always dropped at our home to learn discipline and respect, some for days, some for months and some for years. Ours was a home for everyone.
My aunt was a protector and a nurturer. She knew I loved to tell stories and she encouraged me. She always told me to stand for what I believe and not let anyone dim my light. One day I understood why she was called a feminist. One boy named Bernard did beat me up, first of all he used to call me names and I would cry and one day she pushed me to the ground and I ran home crying. My aunt was  folding clothes and ooh my, I could cry for Africa. She just stopped half way and asked me why did I not confront Bernard and I told her because he was a boy. She gave me what I always call a girl power speech. She reminded me how I always came top in class,how I always stand out and this one Bernard was just a bully and I had to always be strong and hold my head high. As she held my hand walking to Bernard house I thought she was going to speak to him for me but on arrival she only told his grandfather of how Bernard has been bullying girls and I have something to say to him. Now, I wasn’t really prepared for that but having her by my side made me so confident. When Bernard was called by his angry grandfather I stared at him for a while and words just came out. Bernard you are a bully but you won’t bully me anymore, I am strong and intelligent and I am not scared of you. Then something in me told me go and slap him as well. This story was told for years and no bully could ever shatter my self esteem.

As one of the most prayerful women I know she was also very charitable. We were always encouraged to give sometimes some of the things we liked the most and to feel good about it. Prayer was never an option, she has always insisted when you know and respect God you can as well respect yourself and fellow human beings. There were a lot of old people at the village and some had lost their children. She would always schedule food deliveries and help with house chores. Most young people obeyed the instructions she gave about that.

People respect her, trust her, adore her and love her. There are a few who don’t like her that much which is okay. Some fear her and some don't understand her. Everyday I tell myself if being a feminist is being bold, strong courageous, disciplined, outspoken, always standing out for yourself and  watching out for the less privileged and the less fortunate then I want to be a  feminist too. Now a retired teacher, she leads a quieter life but still leads by example. Her mark is left in so many people she has helped to stay in school or just spoken life too. She is my truest she hero i know who deserves to be crowned.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Vicious Cycle of Prostitution

You know what they say about experience being the best teacher, it really is.So last week I met this well travelled, well read, adventurous, and experienced man who is also a great trader and mentor. It was just by luck that I had a chance to drink a little from his well of knowledge and wisdom. Initially, we met to speak about my initiative to inspire and encourage more young ladies to read a lot more so as to grow their knowledge and skills. The conversation just got more deeper and we found ourselves discussing about one of the things that has enslaved so many girls and that's prostitution. There was soo much information shared but what caught my attention and really still haunts me is the way this vicious cycle isn't about to come to an end anytime soon. He actually told me of how this is one of the oldest professions in the world and we had our long argument there, that's a story for another day. He narrated to me how one of his friends who was working for an NGO worked with a group of ladies at one of the borders involved in prostitution. The sad encounters and stories i was told made me dig deeper.

 This is what was happening and still does happen, Halima(not a real life character) who is a young girl drops out of school because of poverty, leaves the village to go to this little township at the border to find a job  and earn some money to help her family get by and maybe send her siblings to school.She really wants to earn some money and the only way the whole family knows she can is to work at the township whichis one of the bussiest transit point for trucks carrying loads across boarders and also one of the places most truck drivers spend the night. One or both her parents have heard some of the upleasant stories about what 'jobs' girls from the village end up  dong i in this township,  still they have hopes that their little girl will be smarter than the others as they have raised her better, she will go into food business or hawking. Halima then  gets to this little township, with a little money trying to get a job or start a little business. Before she knows it the money finishes and the easiest way she can land  a place to stay is share a room with this group of ladies who works at night. They now convince her that the easiest way she can earn a living and chip in the rent and other expenses is join them in what they do as most of them will spend soo much time explaining how this is the only way she can survive. This young girl is naive and scared but then she thinks of her poverty stricken family in the village and how she wants to send her young sisters and brothers to school.  She vows to do this only this once and use the money to start a food business. However, Halima finds out that the money is not enough to sustain her and start a business or even send home so  she thinks of getting  a couple of more clients, earn enough money and stop there. But then this trade she has gotten herself into needs more capital than she thought. To make herself more appealing she uses the money she got from her first customers to buy herself lipstick, some clothes and shoes as they all commented on how shabby and "mshamba" she looked some even told Halima they would have paid her  more if she had upgraded herself a bit. Acting on the insecurities planted into her with those men she thinks well, maybe with a little wig and perfume she will make more money.  And just like that months goes by  and halima has neither  sent money home nor has she  helped her siblings to start school. Then she meets the lady working for an NGO who tells her of the dangers of her job and advice her to go for HIV testing. This lady even gives her free condoms begging her to use them if she must continue with this business.  But then there is a problem, the other girls have found a way to  gain an extra 5-10 thousand shillings which is  to offer sex without protection which most of these men prefer to and pay more than to the girls who now insists on using protection and she thinks why not earn an extra shilling.

Now this is the worst part, Halima  contracts HIV and later gets sick from AIDs. She goes home where her now aging parents took care of her the best way they know and can and she later died. All her life dreams ended there with nothing to write home about. After all that, her sisters did not go to school and her family is still poverty stricken and maybe another young sister will have to go to the little township to find a job as well and help her family and maybe it will just be the same thing over and over again. Some  of the ladies she worked with died at the township  or went home to be taken care with their families and died as well within a short period of time as most of their families don't have an access to the necessary medical information and services to take care of them.

It is a vicious cycle and it won't come to an end anytime soon.  He  actually told me he thinks it's  not even material poverty which really causes this and I joined in as we said together, It is poverty of the mind.  Illiteracy is the worst enemy of an African girl child  be it in the rural or urban areas. It sucks her in and take everything she could ever come to achieve. It's the  strong glue that holds this vicious circle together. I sat there, with my now cold  half-filled  cup of tea. I stared in the space for a while thoughts of whether to order another cup of tea or not crossed my mind too, when i realised  i was actually sweating not necessarily from this city weather and i gave up the thought.

Now,  today as i was getting my presentation ready for some girls i have to address at one of the orphanages  on self-love, self-worth, self-esteem and self-discipline when i go to drop a few books my older friend has given for them i could not keep my mind  of Halima. I think it will haunt me for even longer now that i have made a research and know there are so many Halimas  in this city, in other cities and rural areas, in Africa and all over the world, some do not move to a township, some do not even meet truck drivers but all of them are deeply enclosed in this vicious cycle. I hope someone finds one Halima before it is too late, i hope someone reaches to Halima and speak hope and freedom into her  mind and changes her mindset and life before this cycle swallows her up. I hope someone shows and teaches Halima that there is better to life than this cycle. I hope life becomes better around Halima.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Beyond the Smile!

She smiles
when lights go on
delight on the likes
blushes on the shouts
poses,waves and hair flips.

when night falls
she hides
her scars run deep
with dirty dark secrets
the ghosts of her past
hoovering in the dark
she shivers
wet her pillows
she stands
switch on the lights
only to find
mirrors staring at her
with the dark lines
of her mascara


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Lord Have Mercy!

She walked hurriedly, her pace increasing with each step. She was now at the hospital entrance, almost running, she walked. Without noticing, bounced at the guard who stood at the entrance. “Taratibu mama” he shouted as he staggered, “Unaenda wapi?” But she turned a deaf ear. The guard was already busy with another rushing body. She checked the doors quickly one by one trying to tell which one to enter. “Mama, I am just a good samaritan, he is at the regional hospital, there was a car accident maam.” This rough strong north accented voice kept ringing in her head.

The last she saw of him was when he came home rushing. After he called earlier, “pack my travelling bag, don’t forget the two jeans and those three T-shirts, i have an important meeting in the UK,my MD just fell sick and I am the next in command” Thanking God for all His blessings upon her husband at work, she neatly folded his clothes while listening and whistling to her favorite gospel jam “ ….ametenda maajabu siwezi kueleza…..”

 “God has been so faithful to us,” she will always tell her fellow church women at their scheduled women gatherings, or when they meet outside the church after a beautiful and vibrant Sunday service. Yes, He has been good to them, you could tell by the colorful vitenge and the high quality royal laces from the west of Africa she was always wrapped in and sometimes the striking suits and dresses from Europe and America with colorful, magnificent hats and sometimes dramatic head wraps to complement her church look. The other women could not help not to admire her new set of glittering 21 carat gold every now and then, with a precious stone hanging on her well rounded neck. “You are indeed blessed mama Baraka, after all you do everything the pastor says, pray, fast, pay your tithe and give to the church,” They will always comment. She counted her blessings each day as her husband kept on getting trips to overseas at work, as for lately with all the ‘’utumbuaji majipu’’ and “Kubana matumizi’’ it hasn’t been easy to score those.

 The pastor had always narrated in front of the whole church how his prayers have been with them all the time, and how he saw in his dreams of all the coming overseas trips during the last regime when they presented to him a brand new BMW. He will walk across the stage once he starts this story, his voice getting louder and shakier when narrating of how he saw this magnificent aircraft, he could not vividly tell what aircraft it was but it surely was either emirates or Turkish airlines, It couldn’t be any other, as the vision was clear, the man was getting in the plane, dressed in a finely pressed suit, Italian made to be precise, firmly holding a leather briefcase which must have surely costed him a fortune. And when he was trying to figure out who this was the man turned around to give him a victorious smile, and alas! it was her husband. Pa pa pa pa pa…. congregation will clap so loudly while the band will play that loud music and some will run forward, in bigger numbers heavy set women with heads wrapped in the finest of the cloth, some with their bundles of red notes, some waving their golden bangles covered hands holding cheques with a significant amount of zeros, and others requesting to grab the mic and pledge their worldly gifts to God, a plot in Mbweni, or a house at Mbezi beach, someone will even promise a bigger and better car for God. The pastor after a long prayer of thanksgiving will assure them that this was the part of the service that God will never forget, his people gratefulness and thankfulness. And as they walk out those women, with the latest of the less material dresses standing in small groups will share their testimonies.

 “Mama nilikuuliza Mapema unaenda wapi?” The guard asked her , startling her so much that she almost stepped on her own long maxi dress and fell. I...I... I... am looking for my husband, he was in an accident…i don’t know the ward number” The mlinzi scratched his head trying to remember, the only man he remember was the one who was brought half dead together with his wife. The good samaritan had even shared with him of how the new V8 was a write off and his wife was lifelessly thrown by the road side. “ Mama hapa kuna baba mmoja na mke wake tuu” He blatantly answered her, with some questions in his eyes. Take me to his ward please, she requested, after all he was supposed to be in the UK. “Kwa hiyo wewe ni mke wa pili?” he inquired with deep concern while ushering her into the corridor with a door at the end, probably looking for other piece of breaking news to share with his mates.

 The long corridor was like a long endless tunnel for her, which brought by a flood of thoughts and memories mixed with anger, rage, wonder and an endless darkness. As she walked in and saw him lying there helplessly she wondered if she will ever get answers He was lying there, lifeless, helpless, shameless and hopeless. The doctor has insisted that she wait outside, but she could not help but stand there staring at what is left of his body, two of his legs gone. At the next room the “wife” was resting, conscious now, and as she walked in their eyes locked. Anger,shame,awkwardness,regret...A surge of anger welled up inside her, she felt the need to jump at her, strangle her maybe but she didn’t. She was no stranger, a beautiful girl who always swung her hips gracefully while leading the church choir. More than once she had even told her how beautiful she sings and she would in turn admire her beautiful dress and bag and shoes and jewellery, things he was to buy for her. “May God judge you.” She stammered at her and left the room slamming the door behind her. Now dragging her feet she thought of it all. She was going numb at the thought of her incapacitated husband and young children .What now, where to go from here. She needed to pray, but she couldn’t. She just couldn't.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

My Speech

I prepared my speech
Walking down the village
Jumping up and down the hills
Singing like a little freed bird
Helping old women carry their loads off their shoulders

I scribbled it down
Waking up early every Monday
Have school work done by every Friday
Cleaning the church every Saturday
Singing in the choir every Sunday

My speech was coloured
With my morning long walks to school
Filled with doubt and wonder
When it rained and when it thundered
It was sealed by my commitment to read at the candlelight

I put every word together
When the moon came out and I sat there quietly
Counting the stars like I am one of them
And down the river each cold morning
When I soaked my body in the ice cold running water

I had it all figured out
As I climbed the steep hills to our little house
Singing while balancing my can of water for the day
When the sun came out to warm my skin
And the Kilimanjaro in its glory
Was left bare for me to see

My Speech was corrected
Every time my aunt scolded me for my work
Every minute I had to write an essay of apologies
Every time I fell down going up the hills
Every single minute I was told you can’t have it
Every moment grandma kind eyes said she can’t do much

I had it all pieced together
When mama said I was the brightest
When grandma assured I was the kindest
When dad affirmed I was the strongest
When my siblings looked at me with their hopes at best
When friends called me the fiercest
When I finally knew my place

I rewrote it
When I realised there are no deadlines
To what I had in mind
When I knew I was the one
To write my ending
When I came to realise
I dint have to be like everyone
When I came to terms
With the journey I will walk alone

I am my speech
It’s written all over me
The cheers of my friends on my smile
The scorns of my enemies at my back
The scars of the falls on my ankles
The sparkle of my victories in my eyes
The depth of my love and passions
Deeply felt by the people I have touched
The happiness in my baby’s laughter
The peace in me when I go to sleep

It’s all me and so much more
Ready to walk on
What a journey to behold
To find the left pieces
To fit them in the empty places
And complete my speech of a lifetime

It is not an acceptance speech
For the award I am to win
Or the appreciation I will be accorded
I know if I don’t win a thing
I will definitely be the best version of me

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Rain

I will not go out
The little pathway to my house is flooded
It has become a raging river carrying everything away
 if I dare go out I don’t know what next can happen
My little home and child might be carried away

I really want to go out
To earn my bread
Get something to cook for me and my girl
But my little stall  at  the roadside
Has been carried away

If I go out
I might not be able to come back
The little bridge to my house
Is about to be washed away
With the heavy rain it won’t last a day

My madam called today
Mad I haven’t been in today
The baby has been wailing
And her clothes are not washed
And there is the rain

She complains with this rain
She cannot sit at the garden
From her third storey bedroom
She can only peep through the curtains
And watch the heavy drops hit the ground

She could later take her four wheel drive
To go to the saloon she love
Or have some tea in bed
But I didn’t come to work
If I don’t go tomorrow she says
I should not bother to go again

But if I go to work
I might be stranded on the way
The busses to our homes
Are not going  all the way
They don’t come past the highway
Please someone stop this rain

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A moment of Silence

Beautiful souls
With dreams and hopes
Pride of their folks
Excited to learn
Off they went

With no clue off they took
What a beautiful group
But death ooh death
What an evil crook

He came with darkness
And a dark cloud of sadness
With his strike of coldness
He left them lifeless

As a nation we stand
In our numbness
Parents and friends
Mourning in silence

With hopes we hold hands
Tears in our eyes
May they be in  a  better place
A moment of silence