Whats happening with Meena?

Friends and colleagues have asked me what is going on with Meena. The short answer is that ‘it’s complicated’. So decided to give you the play by-play.

All I aim to do is present common knowledge and information from documents in the public domain. It would be irresponsible to interfere with an ongoing court case, so I wouldn’t want to do that.

Grapevine Time Line,

Amina Shiraz Yakub, is the CEO of Very Impawtant Pets Spa. The company deals with pet grooming, boarding services and offers the KSPCA periodic assistance with its pet services.

In the dog world, during the months of March to May 2015, her friends and colleagues sent up prayers for her husbands full recovery. He was sick, in and out of ICU, and even had to go South Africa for further treatment. She was missed at dog events during those times, when she could only appear briefly before returning to tend to him.

During the week of the 26th July 2015, he was due to return to South Africa for follow up treatment, but Jimmy Jagathrum Baburam sadly passed away. He left behind his wife, Amina, three children aged 10, 4 and 2 at the time, his father and three brothers. He had drowned due to an epileptic seizure whilst swimming.

Legal Timeline

  • 26th July 2015, Jimmy Jagathrum Baburam passed away while on holiday at Medina Palms Hotel.
  • 27th July 2015 autopsy was conducted and official death certificate issued.
  • 26th of April 2016, nine months later, Meena received an official summons to Malindi Court for a Murder Inquest that was to determine whether or not there was reason to conduct a murder investigation.
  • 18th May, the Murder Inquest had its first mention at Malindi Law Courts and was postponed.
  • 15th July the inquest had a mention and the next date set was 30th September.
  • 30th September there was a mention next date postponed to the 14th
  • The inquest has not followed up after the 30th of September, 2016.

Detainment Timeline

Week 1.

Amina was arrested on the 9th of October 2016, at Moi international airport, on her way back to Nairobi from Mombasa, after a weekend trip. {In custody at Malindi police station}.

Judge wasn’t sitting on the 10th . . {In custody at Malindi police station}.

The state requested to do a mental assessment on whether or not she was fit to face trail on the 11th October. The request was accepted. {In custody at Malindi police station}.

Mental assessment done in Mombasa, on the 12th . {Assesment conducted at Coast Province General Hospital, after which she was returned to custody at Malindi Police Station.}

13th she was arraigned in court to be formally charged with the murder of her late husband.

Upon hearing the defence and prosecutions arguments for her release on bail, the judge slated a date of the bail hearing for the 26th of October, 2 weeks later, during which time she was remanded.

She spent the 14th to 16th of October in Mtaangani Prison, Womens Quarters.

Week 2.

Began and ended in Remand at Mtaangani Prison, Womens Quarters.

Week 3.

23rd to 26th October, she was still remanded in Mtaangani Prison, Womens Quarters.

During the ruling of the 26th of October 2016, the ruling orders terms are as follows:

(i)      The accused to deposit her passport in court and should not leave the court’s jurisdiction without permission.

(ii)     The accused shall be released on a bond of Kenya Shillings Ten Million (Kshs.10,000,000) with two Kenyan sureties of similar amount.  No log book or books should be used as security document.

(iii) The accused to report to the OCS Gigiri Police Station, Nairobi once every week with effect from 1st November, 2016 until the finalisation of this case.

(iv)    This case shall be mentioned once every month and the accused to attend all mentions.[1]

Concurrently she was the DPP preffered other charges against her. Namely; Conspiracy To Defeat Justice.

28th her aunt offered up her property, and the prosecution requested one week to verify her passport. This bond application was rejected because her aunt is a holder of an American passport, and the prosecution told that verification can be done in two or three days. The next date was set for the 3rd of November.

Week 4.

This week began in Mtaangani Prison, Womens Quarters.

3rd November her grandmother offered up their Nairobi family home as bond with the relevant documents and she had 3 Kenyan sureties.  She was released on bond on the same day, thanks to diligent lawyers paperwork processing.

My Opinion

In the years I have known Meena, she has shown herself to be a person who has exceptional levels of empathy and value for life. The idea that she would kill or hurt anyone is preposterous to me, and to many of the friends and colleagues I have spoken to. She is the last person to stand by the waste of a life.

All round, we sent many prayers for her release on bond, as her three children are intimately attached to her and were asking for her every day.

As I attended court and tried to understand the legal jargon involved, I have come across the heart breaking realisation that there are so many stuck in the legal system with no hope of being offered their own human rights. I am very grateful for the time that was taken to explain to me what is going on in legal terms, as to me, legal jargon is just like another language.

It is, in this country, very possible to get stuck in jail for a crime one has not even sat trial for. Few people can afford legal counsel and even fewer have any idea what their rights even are. The courts primary occupation seems to me to be to aprove the postponements of justice.

When I visited Meena in remand, the wardens addressed her as ‘Teacher Amina’. I had to ask why, and the answer was that she spent her mornings there teaching the infants in the prison the alphabet and names of colours in English and Kiswahili. The day after her release, she insisted on returning with food supplies, sweets and nappies to the prison. In truth, I can’t exaust how heart breaking her circumstance is to me. Especially as it is not outside the rhelm of possibility that she may go to jail for something she did not do.

For these reasons, I can only pray that her trail is free and fair as possible.

 

 

[1] http://kenyalaw.org/caselaw/cases/view/127213/

http://kenyalaw.org/caselaw/cases/view/127213/

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Pre Performance Hat Tricks for solo performances.

When you are performing on stage, on your own, rehearsing over and over can sometimes lead to a monotone. Unlike performance dialogue, you have no one on stage with you to bounce off. That can leave you at the mercy of your own idiosyncrasies.
The following guidelines and tricks are some of what I use to escape my idiosyncrasies, hope they are useful to you too.

Performance should reflect your intentions.
(Let’s call it performer’s intent). First we will cover some vital questions to help you shape your intent.

Who are you?
Who you are may be a protagonist. But, it’s important to define who that is if that’s the case. Define your character with a purpose, or defining attribute not name and or age.

Who are you talking to?
Identify and specify an intended audience. What language do they speak. Where and how do the live? You will address a five year old different than you would address a 45 year old policeman, so your intonations should reflect who you are talking to. Once you define who you are talking to, you can look for commonalities and differences between you and your intended audience.

What are you trying to say?
What is your intended message? How do you want people to feel? (devastated, elated? etc) The purpose of the content, should come through in the delivery.

All of the above questions would ideally have different answers from each person. That individuality is what a performer can draw from, to create an authentic, unique performance.

With the above ideas in mind, the following little tricks can help expand your versatility. You can apply the above questions to an entire performance set, and also to each line.

Like any tool, they only work if you work them. Choose tools as you need them based on the answers to the initial question.

Hat Tricks

For the below hat tricks, you can use the sentences in italics to experiment with the tool that’s being discussed.

Pace Control
Exercise your speed. Recognizing when to go fast, when to pause, and when to go slow can be powerful.
Saying something very slowly can be powerful.
Use it wisely.

Maintaining the fluid ability to change pace at will, is only achievable when you can also go as fast as you want too.
Say things in fast forward. As fast as you can, while only missing syllables that are permissibly missed in the dialect or accent you intend to speak in.

Emotional expression
-Intonation;
Pitch variations
I can deep down my voice, but my exercise for high pitch is an excerpt from Under the sea, From The Little Mermaid.

Under the sea,
Under the sea,
Baby its better, down where it’s wetter,
Take it from me.

I prefer to attempt it in the shower, at times that there’s no unfortunate casualties in hearing shot. Bear in mind that the more you can brave embarrassing yourself, in front of yourself, the less scary it is to stand in front of people, so push yourself out of your comfort zones during rehearsals.

-Body language
Look at your full body in the mirror and attempt different postures. Put yourself kneeling down, begging, or stand as a king would over imaginary subjects. Body language can be spit into a few smaller bits that combine to form your overall body language. Posture, Arm movements and Footwork

-Posture
Look at the physical postures people around you have, extend your posture out of your comfort zone while rehearsing. Get comfortable in postures that are not natural to you, and increase your on stage flexibility.

-Arm Movements
Be conscious, when the stage is yours, that it is yours. When you rehearse, compare wide extended, owning hands to arms folded across your chest. How high up on your body do your arms go, are you intimidating, or embracing your audience?
Are you cowering away from them?

-Footwork

Where are you going? Where does it look like you are going? This can be anything from military still, to Dancing in between. Even moderate movement can signify a place and or time has been crossed.

-Facial variations

Even when addressing downcast content, the variation in one piece can accentuate a particular emotion. When you are describing sadness, it often involves the loss of something. Describing the thing that is lost, helps your audience understand and feel the loss themselves. In this case , meet variation in content with variation of facial expression. I suggest sitting in front of a mirror, and looking back on past experiences,(eyes closed at first if you’re shy, then when you feel something, you weren’t feeling before, open them). Take a look at your palette of expressions and don’t be afraid to use them when you think they could be appropriate. I would advise against forcing smiles, unless you are meant to be doing a forced smile. Your audience can feel your emotions, so the best way to vary your facial expressions, is to call apon the feelings that inspire those expressions, not to change your face alone.

-Vocal variations
Consider volume, but for the most part reference the different ways that people have made you feel when they have spoken to you. Try out those ways. When you rehearse, reference the people around you. Mimic if you can. Mimicking can be complement as well as insult. When you are just starting out, shout during some of your rehearsals, get comfortable with hearing your voice loud, that way you wont communicate embarrassment when you are trying to impersonate a dictator.

Clarity and Audibility
Try out differing spaces when you rehearse, bigger rooms spread sound out more, differently shaped rooms spread things around differently. You may need to face more than one direction to project to a whole room, in the case of sound equipment, do a sound check, whenever it’s possible. Mic control does well with practice, so grab any appropriate times to test out different mics, and different ways of holding your microphone. Beware of Ps, Bs and Ts, try to angle your microphones in such away as not to push air directly into it when you say them, or they will cause feedback.

-Enunciation
Pronounce words in the way that you want them pronounced, if you practice different pronunciations, you increase your versatility. Who your audience is, and who your character is will have great bearing on what kind of pronunciations you use.

Overall, try to sound, look and feel how you would like to be understood, use variations in pronunciation and accentuation that take you closest mentally to the places you are trying to take your audience.

Which brings us to the last bit:

Audience Interactions

All of your audience interactions will give you an idea of your performances effect on them. Compare that to your initial intentions of what you want to say. Remember this: No one audience can define your worth as an artist. People differ, so if you don’t get the reaction you wanted, you can try changing a thing or two, but don’t take it to heart to the extent that it stops you from performing. The entire process is trail and error, use their reactions as a feedback tool, not for your own gratification.

-Eye contact
Look at people when you can, before, after, during a performance, they will express different reactions to you, and that is your truest feedback.

-Listening
Try to understand different types of audible audience feedback, volumes and timings of applause, the difference between a tension laugh and a mirthful one. How are they sitting? Are they moving around in their chairs, or are the dead still. Keep your ears open to their feedback.

-Prompting Feedback
Call outs, chants, and questions can be a way to hear back from your audience to guage their mood. Every way that you can receive feedback will tell you how your initial intention was received.

NB. I’ve seen a performer do this before, so please don’t make this mistake: DO NOT ask or demand for a standing ovation. Speaking as an audience member, it is extremely off putting. Standing ovations are a spontaneous voluntary compliment and should never be demanded.

Keep your process flexible

Sometimes a different and better outcome can come out at the end of the process, but putting the time into it can help you refine, what to change your mind about. Bear the first questions in mind when you record your rehearsals for review, and when you have the opportunity to have someone to practice for, ask them how your presentation made them feel.

Why I Would Not Wear A Mini In Town

I have to start by saying, I am not at my most comfortable in crowds. Even group discussions make me a little nervous. High levels of attentions from strangers scare me deeply.

It is not once or twice that I have heard calls on the street, that are more aggression than admiration. Men who I walk past from whome I have to put my head down and walk fast. That is behaviour that is not only brought on by dress. It is simply brought on by the fact that you are a woman, who that man thinks is attractive on that day. All you would have to do is your hair and wear heels.

Then come the videos.

In the first one I watched, the brutality inflicted on her nudity was a jaw cracking, back handed slap to the parts of me the see beauty in feminine sexuality. My heart pounded in my mouth, and my hands and knees, clenched tight, shook. I was very pregnant at the time, and even my baby became uncharacteristically still, usually play full and kicking at that time of the day. To know, that that act was possible, and in plain view of other human beings has broken me in ways that I’m yet to learn how to express. I am still triple checking what I wear when I get dressed.
There are multiple cultures of influence here.
Just to be clear, it is not, the illusion of decency or hypocritical morals that stop me from wearing a mini in town.
It is the threat of violence and intrusion,
It is fear.

I chose not to find out the gender of my baby until birth. It is stories like these that made my first reaction to finding out she was a girl; fear. In fact, during the height of the #MyDressMyChoice debate, the same fear made me actually pray that I would have a son. This world is too often unkind to little girls. I still pray for her everyday, and she is a driving force behind me wanting us to talk about these issues. I hope the world is a little safer, even just a little… for her, and for her daughters’ daughters and sons. I wrote most of this article at the time the topic was trending, with her in my tummy.

The Moral Argument

Dressing is a an aspect of culture, it expresses loyalties to a place or manner of thinking. Ultimately, the “wrong” dress, is any dress that symbolises a subscription to an alternate facet of culture. A far removed example of this, is the way that high school kids get bullied for having ‘shady’ shoes.

My great grandmother told me the story of removing her hangi  she told me the pain wasn’t that bad, that she couldn’t have them, or she wouldn’t have been able to stay in church or school. She had to cut open the inner sides of the traditional piercings and sew them together, so that she could continue learning and worshiping at the missionary church. It was there that she got, and learned how to use  diapers. She reads and writes fluently in Kikuyu, and still has all her teeth. Also, I’ve seen pictures of my Cucus in minis. Culture is dynamic.

Kenyan culture picks and chooses aspects of western, eastern and local cultures. The idea of long skirts is taken from Victorian culture, not African culture, and the idea of many wives from the later.
To dwell on the notion that a woman is dressed in the “wrong way” when outnumbered and overpowered, is to suggest that to outnumber and over power is less “wrong”.

I do agree to some extent, that there is a place and time for different attires. I know, that some people are more closed minded than others, and its not exactly fun to be the focus of perverted oglers. There are, so many less depraved options for dealing with disagreements on this topic though. If sexual assault is to be the new form of cultural expression, the only logical result is the oppression of women, as Women’s forms are much easier suited to receiving pain, than to inflicting it. We are made as receptacles, with the exception of the giving of life.

So while we dress these perverts as justified, we should not rush to put angelic Colobus skin wings, on them. To suggest that those men were championing African culture, is to suggest that African men are completely devoid of self control or moral compass. What a shameful lie!

The Punishment And The Crime

Her arms were being stretched apart by two different people at opposite ends, her right leg, equally tug of roped so that her restrained position, was the stuff of nightmares or sadist porn. Its from this position, completely defenceless, that she was being kicked, slapped and hit. Even the strongest man would be powerless in this stance, but they chose this as the means to “punish” someone with a fraction of their strength. Even thieves are not restrained in that way for their beatings.

Speaking of which, we may be overlooking a crime we would normally not. The victims are left relieved not just of their attire, also of their purse/bag, phone and anything she may have stashed in her bra for emergencies; they are robbed of EVERYTHING. This outnumbering tactic is used in other robberies. Men are picked up off the ground, relieved of their shoes and pocket contents in urban streets as well.

Aside from being straight out of the misogynists hand book, the phrase “she asked for it” is a means of defence. It allows us to sit back in well upholstered chairs, away from the idea that it could happen to anyone we know or us, because ‘we know how to avoid it’, and do. Like the response, “was your window open?” As the primary response to “My phone was stolen in town.” We would rather avoid the problem than face it.

The purpose of punishment is to discourage the idea from becoming action, because there is direct consequence. Victims extent of nudity, is determined by where she is. If you put the same levels of exposure on a cat walk, in 1824 or in Gypsys where there is security, she is safe. The problem is not one of dress, it is one of security.
It is that in the places where these things happen, there is no security. There is not enough threat of punishment for the crimes, so it’s worth a try.

These women are left dressed thickly in the dusty shoe prints of the kicks they receive. Wouldn’t a shuka be a more appropriate solution to someone who is underdressed? These men, are the self appointed plaintive, lawyer, judge, jury and executioner, who sentence passers by to violent, sadistic sexual objectification. That is the kind of man, you pray is never one of your robbers, if you have a daughter in your house. I can only imagine, the person who commits unspeakable things in broad daylight and on film, would jump to heinous in the cover of night. My resolution, is that, that is the kind of man, we need off our streets. What they have shown us is a preview, they are testing waters. The next steps, of higher brutality and depravity are waiting only for us not to react to the first.

The focal point of the social media debate was one based more on the moralities of fashion, than the actions of these, sexually deviant criminals. While we sit behind our computer screens, hitting like buttons and sharing their breathless screams, the men who defiled them, have one hand in their boxers, and one hand on a drink, as they relive their public wet dream. Robert Alai, though he keeps us up to date on current affairs… seems to have a fascination with dildos, that he seems to think are a good way to address any social issues that are sexually oppressive to women. I understand that the existence of dildos can be a little emasculating, and my sympathies go out to him for that unfortunate fact. However, the effect of a person whose opinions are generally respected championing the rights of perverts are much more detrimental than comical.

Pick a team.

I don’t mean the closed minded kind, like men against women. I mean, who do we protect? Conservative fashion choices? Sadistic men? If your daughter or sister, makes an erroneous fashion choice, will you support the above punishment then?

Ultimately, a communities loudest objections, are things most likely to be changed. So, if you are spending 90% of your time analysing and critiquing the actions of the victim, then that is who you are telling to change. The past victims may not be in your communication range, but the women who are in your range are receiving this message:

“If you don’t want to be stripped don’t dress, or behave in certain ways. You are responsible for your own safety, so if you put yourself in dangerous situations, you are asking for it.”

Everyone has rights to their own opinions, so if that is actually what you want to say, go right ahead. I however, think the above objections are saying  something else too. Namely:

“I would never want myself, anyone near and dear, or anyone at all to go through that. The crime in question is one of a nature so overpowering, that I’m left looking for ways to reclaim ownership of my sense of safety and boundaries of power. “

I’ve mentioned already, that if the same out numbering was inflicted in a man, he would also be defenceless. The numbers in the mobs are extremely intimidating to any one lone passerby, and they are being violent and aggressive. So, in these street scenes, the answer to “where are the good men?” Is that like us, they are scared. Rightfully so.

Scare tactics work. Although ‘Anything you can do, we can do better’ is a fun sing along for a little girl, as a back bone principle of feminism, it is small minded. Oppression can not be overcome by oppression. We have to remember that in the long run, working as a team is the most strategically feasible target. So, are you on the team of the defenceless? Or is it more important to hide behind your own fear based moral high ground?

What can we do?

For starters, we can start questioning the perpetrators actions more than we do the victims. From there the rest is: anything you can. Do anything you can to stop these guys, even if that means sharing #MyDressMyChoice messages when you think some people make atrocious wardrobe decisions.

On The Objectification Of Men

Sometimes, its better for people to represent themselves in matters that have to do with standing up for themselves. Yet, not all the time. In other instances, people who are being oppressed in a certain way, are precisely the people who can’t say a thing about it.

When you can’t say a thing, you are voiceless. Your problems are overlooked, as not important enough, or not urgent enough. There are many reasons why this happens, topping the list of reasons are two things: shame and fear. Now, the feminists reading this, may be wondering why I would be posting on such a strange topic. Wondering why the objectification of men, should even come up, when the objectification of women is so rampant, so bill board loud. I’ll tell you, objectification is the kind of treatment that is passed on. When you objectify me, I will in turn, look for someone I can objectify more, because that’s the only way that I can get it off my chest. It works in a similar way as; hate breeds hate. The only way to truly end the cycle, is to stop doing it altogether, not to pass it on.

Let’s start at the beginning, in the school yard. Not being very good at the careful games of hop scotch and skip rope, I was not very welcome in the girls games. Instead, I played catch and catch with the boys on most days. For some reason or other, being accepted by the girls, was an unattainable goal, so I aimed instead to be accepted by the boys. That is where my dislike for being called a girl started. The boys, being told every other day by adults not to ‘be a girl’, passed the message on readily to each other (and so, because I wanted to be one of them, to me). “Don’t be a girl” still sits a little uncomfortably in my memory’s play list. It carries with it a list of instructions that are not articulated.

I am going to skip over the insinuation that being a girl is less, because it would digress the point of what I’m saying. The list of instructions that is insinuated by that phrase goes something like this:
Don’t be weak
Don’t be emotional
Don’t show your emotions when you have them
Be brave
Be strong
Be silent when something is wrong.(or at least be brave about addressing wrong things).

These instructions don’t stop in the playground. They continue into night clubs, board rooms, choma joints, hospitals, marital relationships… To be a man, you must be strong. You are not allowed to express emotional upheavals, because that is weakness, that is womanly. That conditioning, is silencing. It is the kind of thing that becomes ‘he wont answer his phone’ because he has been taught for his whole life to shut emotions out. The natural result is that if something threatens to break through the barrier he’s been taught to put up, he has to shut it out, even if that means escaping, shutting down. Even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings, because he has been taught, that letting those emotions take over would invariably make him worthless as a man.

The phrase “Be a man!” looms threateningly, suggesting that men should not ‘hesitate’ or ‘overthink’they should be instantaneously ready to be called into action, jump to be a hero in the face of danger. That is what “real men” are expected to do. Another phrase comes to mind, “Men are dogs!” usually used to describe the sexual infidelities on one man, by condemning the entire gender. Men are expected to take this particular phrase lying down, both literally and figuratively. Anyone who defends the entire gender of men against this phrase will automatically be seen as stupid, naive, or both. It is a foregone conclusion, therefore, why resist it. If you punish me for a crime I have not committed, especially a fun one, I would commit it, just to even the score.

Maybe the most obvious male attribute that is used to measure manhood is physical strength. Yes, we have moved past times when the guy who brings home the lions head gets the girl (at least on this continent). Yet, physical strength in a man is still a prized attribute, I know I’m not the only girl who likes to feel ‘protected… safe’. This expectation is so high, that any man that is not tall and strong, will have anything negative he does, attributed to ‘small man syndrome’. This strength is not meant to be used outwardly, in any uncalled for situations eg. I don’t want you to beat up the guy I gave a giant hug to, before you have a chance to find out he is my cousin. “Wah! He is so buff!” is always meant as a compliment, therefore being strong, is something we encourage men to aim towards. The stronger, the better.

Now that our silent men are strong, and excused for crimes before they have committed them, what comes next? I have to state that what I am about to describe, is something that I am not sure happens to white men. It could, but I have not seen it or heard it, so I can not assume it does, I can only address what I know to be true.

Memes of Nigerian mens’ ‘assets’, the constant romantic and campus comedy references to ‘A Big Black C***’, references to dildos that are meant to imitate ‘A Black C***’, countless giggled conversations about size and girth, songs like “One minute man” and the conversations that quote the song. Men hear these conversations too. Their belly sizes are measured and ridiculed, either too round or too skinny and unattainable body standards are set by models and actors who look good for a living. We may easily state that they don’t mind, that they don’t complain, that it doesn’t bother them, BUT we have already established that, complaining, allowing themselves to look bothered is not allowed. They have not been allowed the privilege of saying that ‘small things’ bother them since toddler age. Many boys would have been discouraged these displays of emotion from before the can speak a sentence.

Painted sign posts site Nguvu za kiume as a priority all over Nairobi, radio shows receive calls from women whose men ‘can not perform’ who are then ridiculed and advised to look for help. In fact, a mans roles in the marital home, could be described as achieved, if he can do two things; provide and perform. Modern day economic circumstances make it such that, unless a wife comes from a a lower class than her husband, it would be impossible to sustain their standard of living and raise children unless she works too. Resulting in a perpetual threat to the ‘provide’ portion of of a husbands ‘duties’. Current economic trends leave a man with only one validating action, one source of ‘proof of manhood’: his sexual performance.

Right, let us look at what we have built up, what we have created, in our sons and our brothers. What is it we are expecting, when we place the above ideals on the head of a ten year old, sixteen year old, twenty three year old, forty five year old male person?

a) Someone who suppresses emotions
b) Someone who conceals his desires and grievances
c) Someone who is expected to be physically strong
d) Someone who is expected to perform well sexually
e) Someone who is expected to be sexually promiscuous

Then comes feminism. Feminism has many many forms. In fact, though I consider myself a feminist (someone who campaigns for equal rights for women and men) I can not count the number of arguments I have had with fellow feminists on one ideal or another. The beautifully written and performed poem, Fake Deep describes so many discrimination’s against women, but in its essence completely tramples on the freedom of speech of men.

Men are given mixed messages, ‘bring me flowers!’, ‘don’t give me flowers! I want real love!’, ‘open the door for me!’, ‘I can open my own doors! I’m a strong independent woman!’. When the truth is, there is no rule book for the social subtleties that are merely symptoms of feminism. We are not confused, we just have different opinions. The appropriate thing to do, would be to get to know each other, truthfully. Forget the games, that state that if a girl who openly expresses that she wants to have sex too, she is a slut or that if a man talks about anything more personal than his day at work that he is too emotional. Those games, create a world where no does not mean no. They set young girls and young boys up for the kind of misunderstandings that scar people for life.

It is nearly impossible to afford someone else a privilege you do not have yourself. If we do not afford our men the privilege of being able to express themselves, what makes us think we can expect them to understand us when we express ourselves. All they will understand, is that we as women are incapable of keeping our emotions in check, simply because that is what they have had to do for their whole lives.

Equality struggles, should try to remain true to their objectives. If we aim to oppress male expression, more than it has been oppressed for so long, the only result, is a push back. That push back, will find our younger sisters, our daughters, pushed down onto their backs. Not because men are animals, but because, men are human beings. They too seek affirmation, validation and recognition.

We set our women up to expect men to be strong, sexually driven and insensitive. Then, we look on astonished, when they are just that.

Surely, we should try a different method, if we want a different result.

The Patience For Inspiration/ Will You Judge?

Eight years.

That’s how long it took me to be able to write honestly, and transparently about the day I was date raped. Eight years of, contemplation, denial, self hate and shame. Even today, I hesitate before addressing this topic. Here’s why.

The root of inspiration.

In general, date rape, is the one of the most controversial topics within the overall topic of rape. It is the form that is most easily silenced by phrases like; she asked for it, or alijipeleka. The morality of victim is always called into question. I think my story, can easily be summed up as ‘alijipeleka’, and that thought alone is a foreboding, silencing one. I often feel that I don’t have the right to even call it rape. So, in order to rid myself of the duty of judgment, in the interests of explaining why I had to to employ eight years of patience, before writing on it, I will allow you, my reader to be the judge.

It could easily have been summed up as statutory rape, but I lied about my age. I had just turned sixteen, but I told him, I had just turned eighteen. I had a terrible crush on him, and there is nothing a little girl wants more, than to be a big girl. Besides, to my mind, I might as well have been eighteen, I considered myself (and had been told by many adults that I was) very mature for my age.

He had asked me to be his girlfriend, and I had said yes. He was twenty three, and was my neighbor. I was not in the habit of keeping the company of grown men, but my romantic mind had summed up our meeting to fate, destiny. Less than a week into the relationship, I gave myself a reality check. I thought about the world we live in and realized, that he was most likely accustomed to having sex. I was saving my virginity for marriage, so I noted the disconnect and set out to break off the relationship.

I explained, that I was sure that he was used to having sex, and that I did not want to hold him back from what would normally be a part or his lifestyle, but that I was not at all ready for that.

“So this is not going to work out. I really like you, but I don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore. Lets just be friends.”

His response surprised me. ” I can’t believe you think that way about me. That I’m just going out with you for sex.” I hadn’t thought of him that way anyway, so I listened on. ” I would never want you to do anything you don’t want to do. So that’s not even an issue. I like you for who you are, not because I want to have sex with you.”

I had already made up my mind, so I was not easily persuaded otherwise, but he insisted and repeated these things so many times, and to my disbelief, actually cried at the affront of what he considered an accusation and the idea of loosing me as a girlfriend.

“I would never, never force you to do something you don’t want to do.” The memory of those words and the expression of disbelief on his face are imprinted on my minds eye, as though still, all these years later he is still trying to convince me.

I repeatedly said, “I’m not ready to have sex.”

The next day, we decided, we would ‘hang out’, listen to music, and talk. The next day, I did something extremely uncharacteristic of myself. I lied to my Mum, about where I was going.

We met up, listened to music, and I became comfortable again in his company. Bob Marleys ‘Is This Love’ was the song that reminded me of him. We were alone with each other, in his room. We kissed, and began a series of actions, that were inappropriate for my age at the time, but I had believed what he said the night before. I allowed myself to trust him. I allowed myself to trust too far. By the time I realized, that I didn’t have full control of the situation, he was on top of me, and I was naked.

I shouted NO, and pushed, but he was heavier than I could push off, and had appeared to become completely deaf. To this day, I’m not entirely convinced that he knew I resisted. I was not hit, strangled or otherwise injured. I became enveloped with a disbelief that made me step out of my body, away from myself. Once the first moments passed, I gave in. I even reciprocated, because, I believed, that all my worth, as a virgin, was gone. I had lost a part of my identity that all my years of schooling and Sabbath school had taught me was my most valuable asset.

I spent weeks afterwards crying at any alone moment I could find. The very next day, I wrote a poem about rape victims in war. In it, I described the theft of self worth that I was actually experiencing.

We had a conversation much later, within which I told him my real age, and he confessed that he knew I was lying about my age.

I could not write directly what had happened, not until eight years later. I would write about it in triple deep metaphors, through personas that were not me. I could not describe what had happened without hating myself completely. Not until Virginity.

The healing that came with, finally describing my experience was profound. In the healing that had to have taken place before it, reading writing that was on similar topics, had helped me work through. The night before that piece finally came out of my pen, I had watched a spoken word performance by Nemesis (Man Njoro), on the topic of date rape. That was the final stroke of acceptance that it took for me to be able to record the experience.

The cause of the inspiration.

That’s the reason why I decided to share it with the world. In case there is anyone who has been through a similar experience and does not have the courage to put it to words. Admitting what happened is an important step in that healing process.

Though, I still have fears associated with discussing this topic openly, I have mentally faced them and prepared myself. Facing them seems like the only way that my experience can serve any purpose; breaking the silence. I know, for example, that one of the reactions this story will inspire, is one that blames my parents. It shouldn’t be. I was neither too sheltered to realise consequences nor given too much freedom so as not to be protected. The alibi I used on the day was a neighbor, two gates away from mine, who I had known since age five. I was, save for that exception, a very responsible teenager, and had truly earned the trust that I was given.

Had my situation been a singular one, I would keep it to myself to my grave. It is not.  Teenage pregnancies are at a very high level in Kenya, and the fathers of those pregnancies are rarely below legal age. The truth is, our ‘team fisi’ culture is granting adult men the prerogative to bed underage girls, and our victim shaming culture is allowing them to do it repeatedly, without ever having to face any repercussions. Surely adults should be held responsible for their actions?

The patience for inspiration.

As an artist, you must sometimes fully digest the issues you address with your work.  The idealistic part of me prays that there will be a day when no really means no. The practical part of me knows, we are far from that day. However, the more we remain silenced by shame, the longer it will take for mind sets to change.

Although it may have taken more than ten years (and the birth of my daughter) for me to attack this issue head on, that may be the time this topic needed, for me to be able to address it appropriately. Though I have had to overcome certain fears to write this, it is still a kind of fear that drives the writing. The fear that this kind of thing will continue to happen… even to my grand daughters, to my great grand daughters….

 

So, my hope, is that this is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. Little girls will always want to be big girls, and to be treated like grown ups, in my opinion, that leaves it up to the actual grown ups to act like responsible adults, not take advantage. I could be wrong. I believe another big part of the problem, is that we teach our sons and male peers, that their manhood can be measured by their ability to bed women. This is a part of a larger scale, objectification of men, and the objectification of male sexuality that is seldom discussed.

Please share any thoughts you have, with me, with each other, on this comment thread, on facebook, on twitter, on your couch. If you see an alternate solution, share, if you see another part of the problem, share.  I hope, that we will have different fears for our great grand daughters… not the same ones that have been there since the times of Tamar.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This is a dedication to Binyavanga Wainaina.

To understand why I decided to review One Day I Will Write About This Place, we have to go back in time.

I am fifteen.

I am holding a thick, boldly titled book in my shaking hands. I am overwhelmed by exhilarating disbelief. This is a Kenyan book. Published that year. It contains published Kenyan poetry!
My hands are shaking because I’m lost for words. My mind is shouting incoherent celebratory exclamations! My mind is dancing and jumping and spinning and spinning me dizzy. I’m so excited I can feel my pause opening, opening up to a hope I had only dreamed of.
I could get published one day, here, at home!
By Kwani?!!
For at least four years after that, 90% of my poetry writing would be done with that aim. In the energy of that specific desire.
In my mind, the name Binyavanga Wainaina would conjure an image of an enormous statue of a man. Half the size of KICC. The statue stood with his chin up, a resolute expression and one hand in the air, holding a book: Kwani?.
The book contained the dreams of Kenyan writers who otherwise would be fighting glass ceiling wars with international publishers who know nothing of our local language use. The book marked the beginning of a new age.
To me he was, a front runner, a torch bearer, a hero.
He was an imaginary meeting in my future, in an office with a big window, on which my future as a writer depended. A busy man, who had managed to spare a few moments with a young writer whose dreams are the size of a country. In the meeting I am terribly nervous. Handing over my first manuscript.
I had built him up, to be Merlin himself. The one who would tell me where my sword and stone lie and how to find the power to extract it. What an incredible fantasy. The reality, is much less magical, and much more inspiring.
Amidst the controversy surrounding him at the present, I bookmarked ‘I Am A Homosexual, Mum’ without reading it, and set out to read ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ first. I wanted to stay true to the order he released them in.
In all honesty, it is not without determined effort, that I got through the first three chapters.
He narrates his early childhood memories in the way that one remembers them; staggered, fragmented and not entirely coherent.
I could not, for the life of me, imagine how one sees the pink of ones own eyelids, or why he seems so obsessed with the colour pink in general.
There were things that kept me going though.
His imagery is blissfully involving:

Her canopy is frizzy, her gold and green bark shines. It is like she was scribbled sideways with a sharp pencil, so she can cut her sharp edges into the soul of whoever looks at her from a distance. You do not climb her, she has thorns. Acacia.

I also deeply identify with the fascination with words, their forms sounds and meanings. So I continued, and am so happy I did. Before I knew it, I was grabbing every free moment to open up and dive back into his adventurous, happy, and somewhat unsure childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Once you are comfortably seated in the centre of the book, the need for the introduction becomes crystal clear. Without it, his descriptions of kimay and accordioning would have lost the reader completely. He spends that childhood narration letting you into his mind, the place from which, his story makes the most sense. His story is one of outright honesty. I find myself completely in love with his family and captivated by his experiences, many of which take place in places I have also been. His path, as he describes it is very human. He is very earnest in his ambitions and procrastinations, his ambiguities and preparations towards publishing an anthology that would mark one of the most inspiring moments in my life.
I feel, as I usually do when reading Kenyan stories, that I know my country a little more. This time, it is not in the onlooker kind of way, which is what I felt from It’s Our Turn To Eat. It is in the way that I would hear, from a friend, as we walk down Kenyatta Avenue.
His journey towards and beyond the point when I first held that Kwani? book in my teenage hands has given me fresh fire to get my first book; Speak published.
Ten years after that vivid memory, Binyavanga Wainaina has inspired me powerfully, again.

Binyavanga, if you happen across this post, I would like to say thank you. For progress that you have brought to our local literature world, and for writing your story, without pretence, with authenticity. Thank you, for inspiring me, again.

Growing Up. Part 3. Poetry

This is a topic, I suppose I cover quite frequently. If you would like to know a little more about the beginning of my performance journey, click here. I wont go into those details today. There are many ways, that I have grown as a poet, in this journal entry, I’m going to talk about the factors that have lead up to my position today. I’d like to elaborate on my stance on #PayThePoets.

When I began my journey in performance, my sole aim was to get my name out there. I intend to publish my poetry, and in order for any of my books to sell, I needed for my name to have been heard of, before my books are on the shelves. I would meet and pitch myself to any event organizer, I  work on my performance religiously, I practice everyday at any chance I get. During 2011 and 2012 I would perform an average of 2.5 times a week. Sometimes taking on five performances in a week. I would ferry myself around as much as I possibly could, and aimed at a minimum of two performances a week, but never less than one. The expenses involved in that kind of schedule is immense. I borrowed money when I didn’t have it.

Towards the middle of 2013, I was running seriously short of funds. During that year, I often got myself into situations where I had made my way to events in Westlands and City Center, from which I had no idea how I would get home. I was forced, on those days, to spend the time that I was not on stage, sending smses and making calls, to get help to get home. At the time, I was driving and on two occasions I was forced to find somewhere safe to park the car for the night and sleep in it. Even, from friends and family, you can only ask for that kind of help a certain number of times before sympathy runs short. It defies common sense to go somewhere without knowing how you will get home. I often voiced my concerns to to organizers concerned, but they maintained that it was not possible to give me any money, even for transport. In the many performances I have done (over a hundred) I have only been paid for four. For a small number of other performances, the organizers have gone into their pockets to give me fare or petrol to get home.

Last year, after sifting through about one hundred short listed poems. I had the manuscript for my first anthology ready; Speak. By this time my name in poetry circles had already become, quite well known. Poets who were just starting out started asking me for advice on their presentations, and general advice on how to be a successful poet. Simultaneously, I had begun a series of expansions in my business. I met, and still meet, many talented poets. I started to feel heart broken, by this world that I had invested so heavily in. Although, with the connections I had established, I could connect performers with stages where they could share their work, when asked about how to be successful, monetarily, I was at a complete loss.

Cars need more than petrol to run. Last year, I had to come up against the reality that I could no longer afford to run my car. Since then I’ve been using public means, but that is not where the financial constraints end. I could no longer afford the fare to attend the events, that had afforded me the small fame I had gained. I had to make a difficult decision; when called about performing at events, it had to be on the condition that I be given (at minimum) fare to and from the event. One by one the event organizers stopped calling. At the moment, on average, I perform two or three times a month. Even this small number, of events that I am doing, is mainly based on the fact that my business has regained the capacity to afford me that luxury. For many months last year, I was unable to perform at all, let alone, support other poets by attending their performances.

This situation begs a question. Is performance poetry reserved for those who can afford it? Due to discussions that have stemmed from #PayThePoets it has recently become evident to me that there are a good number of poets, that have found ways to make the craft pay. The trouble with these avenues, is that they are often deals made between the poet and profitable event organizers or radio stations. These deals are exclusive in nature. They usually only have enough room for the poets who are already in them.

It is entirely possible, that I personally have been lacking in correct networking and/or marketing techniques. Should those skills be prerequisite of writers and performers? Is it not at all possible for the performers and writers work to sell itself in this industry? Due to financial constraints that I’ve already mentioned, and the fact that publishing companies are wary of publishing first poetry books, I have not yet been able to publish Speak yet.

When I give advice and mentor poets who want to work on their performances, I start off with a disclaimer. That this industry has no guarantees, and little chance of financial gain. However, considering, the audience demand for this art, and the substantial number of entrance charging poetry events, should that be the case? The more thought I put into this issue, the more I want to be one of the game changers.

 

The trouble with depending on the artists finances to support their performances perpetually is this: All types of art are dynamic, they are ment to change over time. I would like to illustrate, using a couple of different visual art forms.

Anyone who has used Ngong Road, between The Junction and Karen, over the past five years will have noticed a change in the kinds of pottery, sculptors and furniture available. That change didn’t take place over night. Some years back, the pots were either mat, varnished, or painted one colour. The Sculptures were wooden, usually little pot bellied men. The furniture was standard, the only difference between any two vendors would have been quality. Some time after that, began an experimental time period. During that period, the pots became painted with two or three colours, usually, bright green, orange and gold spray paint, these garish colour combinations, caught more attention, but begged questions about the taste of the people who had painted them and who would buy them. The sculptors began to have one out of the ordinary item on display, a giant frog, or miniature giraffe, the forms of which could not be called entirely lifelike. The furniture vendors began to feature one out of the ordinary item as well, like a four poster bed or a clay fire place.

These out of the ordinary items, where not perfect, they were all interesting to look at, but not necessarily pleasant. This art form was financially supported. As more people became interested in the idea of having customized items, the diversity and quality of the items improved. If you drive up that road today, the vendors have much wider variety. The pots are painted in sunsets, flamingos, siloets, zebra stripes and leopard spots, just to name a few. The sculptures are an array, from the big five, to dogs and horses, they capture movement and character of their subjects. The furniture is diverse, if you are to go window shopping, walking along the whole stretch would be rewarding as the craftsmen have become expressive, flamboyant and tasteful in their designs.

I believe that performance poetry, is stuck in an experimental loop. When free poets are always favored over seasoned poets, that leaves little space for mentorship, and development of the art form. By the time a poet reaches the point in their development where they can start passing down skills, they are also at a point where they would need to start focusing more on income generating activities. It would be around the time where someone would want to start a family, or start making investments in their future like aiming at a promotion or buying some land.

 

I have heard performance poets, being advised to focus more on writing and publishing as a means of moving forward, than on performance. When the Kenyan readership culture is considered, that argument is flawed. Kenyans, rarely read work that is written by Kenyans. Also, oral culture, which has been culturally significant since before colonial times is still favored over reading, in general. In the post Moi era freedom of expression is allowing that culture to flourish more readily. There is however, a disconnect between performer and audience. The audience doesn’t have many ways to directly connect with the performers they appreciate most.

It is also important to consider that the activity of organizing poetry events, is quite hit and miss, few organizers have been able to sustain events that charge more than 500ksh entrance. Organizing a poetry event is a costly thing to do, depending on the scale of the event. It can cost hundreds of thousands to organize an event of a substantial size, especially if time, energy and resources are to be dedicated to rehearsals. The organizers themselves are seldom guaranteed that they will break even.

After much thought, I have a proposal. I have already discussed it with four event organizers, who agree with me and will begin implementing as soon as their next events.

We should have a collection box, at the doors of our poetry events, that way, if members of the audience are moved or inspired to a point where they would like to support their artists endeavors, they can tip them directly. The fee that they pay at the gate, ensures that the event is possible, whereas the tipping box, is for voluntary support of the artists themselves. The general contents of the box are to be split, after the audience has left, by the poets who performed. If an audience member would like to specifically give to a particular artist, they should have the option of putting something in a small envelope and putting the name of the artist on that envelope. Those would be given directly to the artist, for them to open at their own time.

The introduction of the idea of tipping the poets would help many of the issues mentioned above. The audience would have a chance to make individual commitments to the art on a voluntary basis, thus strengthening the relationship between audience and performers. It would help to free the art form from some of its economic barriers. It would motivate performers even more, to give their very best at every performance they attend, and would help them know, when they have specifically moved a certain crowd, with a particularly good performance, thus encouraging growth in the art form as a whole.

Growing up has afforded me a different perspective on my role in poetry. It’s not just about getting my name out there or selling my books. Its about creating a healthier environment for the poets that will come after me. Its about protecting young talent from exploitation and working towards better quality in the art form for generations to come. That journey of improving the poetry world around me, is one that I’m just beginning.

For my experiences so far, and for a vision for the future, I am deeply grateful.

Most of all, I am grateful to you, my reader. You make waking up at three thirty, well worth it.