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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Just thinking loudly: 2/3 gender rule

Why affirmative action? (Gosh its 2016 but we still ask). So why gender affirmative action? That has been the debate in Kenya more so in the last three days with all sorts of “social media” experts.
I had vowed not to engage on the 2/3 gender rule debate in Kenya because some of ignorant comments are just too much for a sane mind. When you have been working on these issues for many years sometimes it is hard to just get why people don’t get it. And it is tiring. I will not go to parliament let me go to the village. I will just give this example.
Some years back together with Hon Adelina Mwau and Nzungi we were working on some water project that would bring the much needed water closer to the people. Note: In our culture who fetches water? Who suffers when there is no water?
We were working with the project in that community in consultation with the leaders. (By leaders I mean the current leaders take precedence – chief, village elders, etc etc – read male). We made it clear that there needed to be gender representation in the committees’ membership etc. Why? Because when the water committee or other committees are formed in the village the heads of household (read men) represent the house while women are left taking care of whatever else in the homestead. Be honest, that is the norm, that is what we see every day. It is what is expected. It is what is normal, respectable etc, etc. show me a home where the man will be left in the house and woman goes to represent the household, the village gossip will never end. (Kukaliwa chapatti.)
While we made the information clear of course it was not easy to get this working in the community. So we had to INSIST.  Eventually some more names were put in as members of committee. There were not many literate women to put in committee. (*illiteracy- historical injustice).  Also  It was time to visit the community for one of the many meetings and by then we knew we are on the same page, there has to be females and males in the meeting. It is over ten years ago but I still remember women sitting some place aside and men “at the table”. Culturally acceptable. No worries.
We started discussing the issues around this. A lot had been written on the processes of the project but we had to ‘interfere’ in seeking the opinions of women. I still recall some major discrepancies between what was written and what women wanted. For one, men had under estimated the amount of water required in the household hence even the amount suggested for buying was not fair.  I recall women actually laughing like “what? That for clothes, dishes, drinking, bathing, cow…”.   To cut the long story short, a lot of issues had been assumed, the men did not do this intentionally in fact they very much wanted their women and girls to stop going for many kilometres to look for water. Their heart was in the right place. But they did not know. They did not details on what water is required in the house among other ‘minor’ details that made a big difference in the project. If the consultation with women had not happened the project would not have served the intended population well enough. Many women and girls would still have left the project to go to the river miles away.
No: the playing field is not level for women and men
No: women are no better leaders, individual women and men are good or bad leaders
No: women need not be perfect, as we have corrupt men in power we can have corrupt women in power, it does not make them worse because they are women,
No: we should not have different standards for measuring men and women’s achievements. I am just hearing “what have nominated women done” and I am wondering “what have elected men done?”  I don’t know. I don’t know what WOMEN HAVE DONE, but I know what Hon. Denitah is doing, what  Hon. Wangari is doing (need I mentioned they are women??) among others.
No: women will never get equal vote despite their efforts and capability in the current cultural setting, not in many years to come.
Yes: it is hard enough for a woman to get a leadership role in the village let alone in more public spaces.
 YES we need affirmative action. There are so many hurdles to women participating in political leadership and capacity is not one of them.  

Saturday, January 02, 2016

So what is really NEW?

As we ‘jumped’ the year and bid goodbye to 2015, I kept thinking, so what is new? Yes, we are crossing to 2016, but so what, what is NEW? Or have I become a pessimist? I started seeing ‘new year’ messages as early as 20th day of December 2015. I wondered if people are more optimists or taking much for granted, I mean some people died at 11.59pm on Dec 31.  I then started wondering why Christmas messages have to be tied with New Year; “Merry Christmas and a happy New year”.  May be it is the optimism that one will see a new year, and the anticipation. 12 months is a long period, and hence the much hullabaloo about a new year more than a new day or a new month. I saw comments on people getting quite annoyed at ‘happy new month’ comments…may be we may as well stick with New Year! At least a year is an assurance that you will have (or celebrate) a birthday, even those born on February 29. By the way how do you count your birthday when there is no leap year?

A new year is a time to look back on a year that has passed and forward to another year. We all start the year with optimism and believe that it will be a better year. Looking back in 2015, I reflect on which were my “moments” in the year for life is made of moments. It was an interesting year for me as I was back on my feet after being immobile from ankle fracture from August 2014. It really feels nice when you can wake up and go where you want at your own free will not waiting for someone to ferry you. I had never thought this as an issue, until I could no longer do it. I can only praise God for good health and the blessings that I barely notice.

One of the greatest milestones I made in 2015 was to move house. Yes move house!  Like move house and locality. That was a big deal for me because I hate moving! I had avoided moving houses despite several attempts where I concluded “not good enough house”. I had enough reasons to contemplate moving since mid-2014 but I needed “time”. A first I could not move since I was working in South Sudan, the neighborhood was quite safe so I comfortably left my house for three months without any incidence. “I will move when I am back in Kenya” I concluded.

In October, I got a job in Kenya so now that was no longer an issue. I was back in Kenya…but still… It was a process, thinking and rethinking then waiting for a more opportune moment. At last I concluded I will move when my ankle was fully healed! My neighborhood had become congested with time and Thika road traffic was not letting up despite having persevered for 10 years (in the same house!).  One day I woke up and could not leave the parking for about 45 minutes as my car had been blocked by an arrogant neighbor who did not appreciate being woken up from his beauty sleep!  With recuperating ankle, just barely out of crutches public transport was not an option for me as I would have had to change vehicles and walk. That was not viable. By then I was driving with some pain so I also needed to leave house and office before traffic snarl. I was late to work. I got caught up in traffic so driving became a hard task. That day I made up my mind to move. I contacted some agency and the following day accompanied by a friend I went hunting for a house, identified one that I immediately liked, met with landlord the same evening and planed my move in a week’s time! Just like that.

That experience with parking was God-sent. It catapulted me to make a decision and pursue it. I am very glad I did. There are many moments in life when I am hesitant to make a leap, to change, to make a decision to pursue a goal as uncertainty keeps me away.  I end up stuck on the same spot or not reaching for higher goal. Sometimes I have had the jerking moment that throws me off balance and force me to make a decision.

My desire this year is that I will jump and take a leap sooner and dare to reach out before I am thrown off the cliff to act. I pray that, this is what will be NEW for me this year. This year is definitely a very special one for me!

Happy 2016.

Monday, October 05, 2015

40 days of positive affirmations

      The universe is alert and abundant – Sophie Ngugi

The law or reproduction and creation dictates that something produces more of the same, a human being produces another human being while a bird creates another bird, a lit candle lights other candles and multiply the light. We apply this concept everywhere in different ways. Positivity breeds more positivity in life and vice versa. Somehow many of us recognize this as ‘common knowledge’.  We tell each other either to console or encourage about being positive. Some will call it hope, having hope for better or that having faith that all will work for better. However, this is not easy and often than not we allow for the pessimism, negativity to rule over and shadow our desires and dreams.

Last week I felt inspired to work on my positivity in a more proactive ways in what I called “40 days of positive affirmations”.  I had experienced some moments of self-doubt over the weekend and while driving to work on Monday morning I felt it is the right time to start the week. I decided to turn the Monday morning into a ‘blissful recharge’ more than the ‘dreaded Monday’.  I asked a few friends and two friends joined in this exciting journey for 40 days.  We did not have many rules, the main rule was to always think and journal something positive, affirm self and others, share the focus for the day and get in touch in case one was feeling low and in need of some positive  vibes.
We started enthusiastically and have been sharing every morning. The sharing has been inspiring and every day that any of us three posts, once cannot help but feel awed. So far these are the five lessons and observations from week 1.

   1.    You can do what you set your mind to
Staying enthusiastic and positive in the beginning seemed like a task, a challenge but we realized that it was easier than we had anticipated. We did not call it 40 days challenge or something related to ‘task’. We let it blend in in our daily lives and on Day 8 we have not being short of daily focus and inspirations. We each get a focus that is self-affirming every morning and this vibes contribute to a more positive day. We each report on how the self-affirming day has been and share aha moments.
  2.      There is always something to be thankful for
There are many authors and speakers who emphasize on being grateful and how this contributes to more, while complaining will contribute to lack. There is so much happening in each of our lives, and like the ‘news’ it is tempting to always focus on the negative. I mean, you never hear how many people woke up healthy today, how many cars or planes reached their destination until something negative happens.  On the day I woke up and decided to journal list of what I was grateful for at the moment, I was overwhelmed that I could not stop writing. Even in the middle of the storms, there is some ounce of calm.
   3.      Avoid negative energies
We all need a break from toxics in life. The toxics are both internal and external, how we think and feel deep inside and also what others bring. We have ability to control both aspects with the larger mission being controlling what comes from inside. I became conscious how easily friends can make sweeping, judgmental statements while others can easily pull you down to melancholy in a few seconds. I do the same to other people and I receive the same. This week I made conscious decision not to allow toxic attitudes to sap in while not contributing the same to other people. I was able to the brush off these toxics faster and concentrate on positivity. This has contributed a lot to the success of the positive affirmations focus. Nothing much has changed in our lives, but we all seem to experience life differently.
   4.      Pat on the back
We are brought up in a society that abhors pride and in the process everything else that puts focus on self is seen as pride. Many will emphasize on being modest and hence not praising oneself, wait for others to praise you. In the book Things fall apart. Chinua Achebe uses a phrase “the lizard that jumped from the iroko tree said he will praise himself if nobody else does”. It is not vanity to pat yourself on the back, congratulate yourself and acknowledge your achievements, positive characteristics if nobody else does. You are beautifully and wonderfully created, and you do not need to look very deeply to recognize the beauty and wonders of you. But you must look. Unfortunately the world is not always ready to give you a pat on the back. You will make an achievement and people will give a halfway congratulation followed by a ‘but’.
    5.      The universe is alert and abundant
During these days, I have been surprised at how much I restarted some habits that I had struggled to rekindle for a while. It was like the universe has heard that I am ready to recharge and so when I put out those desires out, some ways and new energies were created. I had been procrastinating on some personal habits that I needed to put some efforts on. There were always blocks and somehow it never seemed right. I had many excuses to procrastinate, feeling too tired to wake up earlier to do my personal development work and not able to fit morning walks are some of the issues I had struggled with for some weeks and months. Somehow during this week when I made a plan with self to revamp this, I found the time, the schedule and the energy.
I feel new energy in dusting up my long forgotten dreams and treading on.
I am grateful to Mercy and Peninah for taking this journey with me and creating special space of inspiration.
You can dare to dream…again … and again.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Reflections: a year later by God’s grace

“If the only prayer you said was thank you that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart
Today is exactly a year since I became immobilized and started a journey to recovery. The journey started in Yei South Sudan where I was working then as shared in previous post. By the time I arrived in Nairobi I was so exhausted that all I wanted was to go to my house and sleep. However, my friend encouraged me to go to hospital immediately and be sure that the first aid I had received was okay. My brother Jose, my sister in law Patricia and niece Bakhita had come to pick me from the airport. We proceeded to Agha Kan University hospital emergency. On arrival and giving the brief history about what had transpired I could see the skeptical look on the faces of the medics “this was done in South Sudan? Okay let us do another X-ray”. After X-Rays the attending doctor could not hide his surprise. “Well it seems they have done a pretty good job of reduction”. My non-medical definition of reduction was the process of putting back the bones together. That had been done at the Yei Medical centre under anesthesia before they put back plaster and immobilized the leg from the knee.
At the hospital

I was on 2 crutches for about 3 months
I understood the skepticism. With the recovery from long period of war, getting quality medical services in many parts of South Sudan is a challenge. I still get amazed at the level of care I received at the Yei Medical centre. At Agha Kan the doctors confirmed the previous diagnosis of a fracture and torn tendons. They further advised I report back the following Monday since I would need to go through surgery. On Monday the doctor calmly explained the process and I looked at his face and asked him “why are you saying this so calmly, you are talking of putting screws and metal plate in my body…” I could not understand why he was treating it like ‘normal’ but with time I started seeing it as normal. I could not comprehend what he was really saying past the “metal and screws” so I asked him to speak with a doctor friend on phone to explain and my friend would explain later on. She did not do a better job “Sophie, it is like let’s say wood that has been split so put screws to hold it together and plate to…” Okay. Doctors!! I must admit later on looking at the x-rays the leg looked (looks) like some carpentry work!

Next step: using one crutch and making steps
The surgery went well and I received a lot of love from friends and families who visited me. After I was discharged from hospital I started a long journey spending hours in bed or on the coach.  The day after being discharged from hospital I woke up feeling upbeat. Finally the swelling on my lower leg had reduced and I could now make out the toes. I took breakfast then took the medication. After a few minutes I started feeling wheezy and called my sister in law Patricia who was staying with me. Within a short time I was feeling faint, and out of breath. Luckily at that particular moment, my brother Martin walked into the house and they quickly took me to the car to go back to hospital. That is the only moment during the whole recovery process that I felt very scared. I felt I was dying. I was in pain and panting. The journey from Kassarani to Agha Kan would have been too long so we rushed into the Neema Hospital for first aid and they suspected allergy to some codeine chemical in the medication.  I knew I had allergic reaction to codeine but I had not been keen on the same, neither had I realized that Betapyn tablets had that. I was stabilized and we proceeded to Agha Kan.

That was a scary day spent again in Hospital going through various tests to rule out possible causes including blood clot and other scary possibilities. My friends Rahma, Mercy and Antony together with my brothers and sisters camped at the hospital. They actually made a hotel out of the room getting snacks to eat. We were a jolly lot the hospital could have wondered if we liked that environment better. Tests were done and monitored every hour and by evening the doctors were confident that it was a reaction to the medication hence I was not admitted. That experience scared me and for a while I would get occasional panic attacks.
Back at home it was now a journey to recovery.

I learnt so many lessons during that time. I will seek share some of them in the coming week.
A year later, on my feet. Grateful to have learnt many lessons and appreciating the gift of life

As I celebrate one year of God’s grace I am happy to look back and see how far I have come. I should stop asking my surgeon during appointments when I will be discharged from the clinic…but I am likely to ask again when I go for my appointment on Monday. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reflecting on a year that was: He will make a way

God will make a way, where there seems to be no way; He works in ways we cannot see ; He will make a way for me” Song by Don Moen
The probability theory is one that we learnt in school and apply every day. Sometimes the odds are against you. You reason out using logic and it seems there will not be a way out. Other times small actions make a big difference and we only realize so when looking back. When I woke up sluggishly and only warmed the water instead of boiling it was not a thought out action. As I shared in the last post I slid and fell on water. Sometimes wonder, what would have happened if the water was boiling hot.  And I was in that pool of water, scalding? That did not happen, and I believe in Godly interventions, and that was one of them.

As I sat in the car outside the hospital in pain and wondering on the next step I was thinking about home and my family. I was not sure how or what to tell them. At that moment I was more worried about how they would react and feel helpless so I postponed informing them. My friends and colleagues had made some calls and we were trying out to see what the best way forward is.  I applaud Christine for being calm and thinking in crisis, and from the word go it was about “where can we get an x-ray; how do we get her to Nairobi”.  The Yei Medical clinic was one place we were assured of Xrays. The alternative private clinic was miles away and on rough road and I was not in a position to travel further. By the time the medical personnel arrived the pain was unbearable and the leg was swollen. I now know that skin is elastic if it did not burst from the pressure.

I still shudder when I recall the process of being taken out of the car, to the bed; from the bed to the Xray room; from Xray room back to bed. That was the most painful moment of that journey. Sometimes before or after the Xray I decided it was a high time I alerted my family and a few friends. I called our youngest brother, Jose and gave him the task of assuring others that I was okay. (…because I was not...). What mattered was that I was in good caring company as my friends and colleagues tried to map the way forward.

At that time there was nothing to make me think this was more than a severe sprain on the ankle. When the X-rays were out, the doctor calmly informed me I had some fractured bones and I then knew there was something called fibula bone and other terminologies that did not make sense.  The reduction process was done and I came to, feeling groggy and cold. The whole leg had been immobilized but within a short time the pain was back.  By that time my friends and colleagues had made steps and I had been booked for a flight to Nairobi. The Eagle Air that operated from Yei to Entebbe operated on Tuesdays and Saturdays and bookings needed to be done about two weeks prior. The day was Thursday and but somehow I got the last seat!
I spent that night in hospital with Christine in the next bed. That was one of the interesting things, since there were few patients in hospital, they did not have restrictions on guests. The following day I went back to the house in preparation for travel on Saturday. Those two days were long and hazy. The pain was intense and we decided I take Betapyn tablets to ease the pain since the injections and pain killers given at the hospital seemed not to be working.  I was to later find out Betapyn was not to be in my prescriptions anymore.

The journey from Yei via Entebbe to Nairobi was the longest I have had. I also got a taste of the life that people with physical impairments face. My two wooden crutches and immobilized leg were quite conspicuous and I got some good Samaritans wishing me well. I particular remember one lady at the Entebbe airport who encouraged and declared “you will be on your feet young lady, you will not be confined to that wheel chair.” Another one asked if she could pray with me. An image of a role play that is done at the Alabastron open day struck me. There are many people suffering emotional wounds but since we cannot see them, we do not empathize or help them. While I appreciated the kind gestures and was greatly encouraged, I knew there are many other people who had emotional pains and wished someone would speak to them, smile at them, and give encouraging words.
My family members were waiting for me at the Nairobi at the JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). When they called wondering if we have landed since it had been almost one hour after scheduled landing time, I told them “I am in Mombasa”. They thought I was joking. And I suspect silently wondered “is she that sick that she thinks this is Mombasa, or she went to Mombasa?”

Yes we had landed in Mombasa. The flight had been slightly delayed in Entebbe. Ten minutes before landing the captain informed us that we were actually going round (in circles he should have added) at Athi River as there were debris being cleared at the run way. When we were finally cleared to land the plane descended to the ground and just before the wheels hit the ground it started going up. Nobody spoke. Nobody screamed. We were all silent. May be too shocked to talk or scream. We could not see outside due to very heavy fog. The captain later informed us that we were heading to Mombasa. The flight could not land due to poor visibility. Neither could it attempt again as we had already spent time in the air so low on fuel.

With all the pain, we landed in Mombasa instead of Nairobi. But we got back to Nairobi, and God continued making a way for me in more ways than I can write. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflecting on a year that was: A journey not planned for

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly." Neil Gaiman
“The day I shall never forget” was a common title for essays in primary school. Usually this would entail some fictional story about some great holiday that one had or some major scary occurrence. I wonder why I never ventured to writing fictional novels! By the time I wrote all those great compositions and scored high marks in English (I am not just doing the “when I was in school” this is real…ask my teachers) I had never experienced really momentous days. Usually it was fictional and a creative mind I did have! Since I enjoyed reading novels at an early age, I could write many fictional stories and enjoy the moment of being in that story.

As years go by, real life experiences become more momentum and there are many more days “I shall never forget.” Today I woke up thinking about of a real life occurrence that happened about one year ago. It was a Thursday morning on August 21, 2014 and I had just gone back to Yei in South Sudan after my R and R break 2 days before. Somehow I was feeling low and not upbeat as I usually did after a break. I therefore snoozed off the alarm until I could do it no longer and had to wake up and warm water for bathing. I put the kettle to boil water for bathing but due to time I decided to go get the water before it boiled. I was to later be grateful for this minor impromptu decision. I had put the kettle in the sitting room so I first opened the main door. This was something I sometimes did to allow Betty my cleaner to access the house when she came in the morning. I then picked the warm water and to date I do not know exactly recall what transpired after that. What I remember is that I had knocked the kettle against the table, water spilt and I slid and fell.   I saw my ankle twist at a weird angle and pushed it back. I did not feel any pain immediately. I was in shock. I knew I was in trouble.

The houses in the compound where I was living were far apart so even if someone screamed at the top of their voice nobody would hear. My mind therefore blocked any pain and went into action. I pushed myself on the floor up to the bedroom where my phone was. I reached out and dialed the number of Christine. She has been my friend for many years so when fate saw us in the same place we opted to live in the same compound. She did not pick and I dialed another number of my immediate neighbor and Kenyan friend I met in South Sudan. Gillian picked immediately and I told her to come. By then I was in panic and it was evident in my voice so she threw away her phone as she rushed. Pain had started but blocked by many thoughts going and thinking what next? Where do I get medical help?

Gillian rushed in and luckily I had opened the door so within seconds she was next to me “gosh what happened?”  I quickly warned her not to slip in the water. Since that moment and for many months after that I had a phobia for wet floors. She came confused as to how to help. I could not allow her to touch the ankle that was starting to swell and she wanted to get warm water to massage. Somehow I knew that the injury was serious and so I told her I needed to get to hospital. She rushed out and called Christine from her house, and within a short time they two ladies were trying to plan way forward and get transport. Both of them called their organization drivers and I also called the driver who was to pick me around 8am to hasten. We were all trying to act without panic, rather they were acting, and I could not act. In about 10 minutes we had 3 drivers and three cars and I, still on the floor and needed to get into a car. It was not easy. The real pain commenced then. It was a hurdle trying to move me to the car and by the time we reached the hospital the pain was so intense that I kept asking my friends, “is this dream”. While this sounds cliché, that moment remains one of the very few moments that I have felt I am having a bad dream. I had never felt such intense pain in my life. How could this happen? I was in shock and in pain. By now the leg was so swollen and I wished for a dose of pain killers.  On reaching the hospital, there was no doctor, or nurse and somehow having had no in patient clients the night before, the hospital was closed.

I could not believe it. How was I going to survive this pain?

A long journey had just begun. I did not have any idea what the journey was going to be like, and as a therapeutic process to myself, I will be sharing more on this experience that. I learnt many lessons, but I am not sure I can summarize them, or mention the many people that made such a difference during those moments.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting for your turn might be forever

"If Rosa Parks had taken a poll before she sat down in the bus in Montgomery, she'd still be standing."- Mary Frances Berry
Few weeks ago I was conducting field monitoring visit in one of the program sites. I was seated in the office catching up with some work when an elderly man entered the office. He was a community leader who I had met earlier on. We were reintroduced and he greeted me enthusiastically. He didn’t understand English and I did not understand his local language so we ended it with just greetings. He then went out and I thought that was it. Shortly after he walked in again, this time not alone. He had a young man with him and he seemed to be the one directing the young man. He pulled a seat for the young man and there they were! Seated in front of me! He had just called himself for a meeting…with me…without my notice. The young man was the translator and we spent some minutes chatting. By the time he left I was quite amused. His cultural orientation enabled him to think of meetings as not disruptions but what he does because he wants or needs to. I may not appreciate if everyone took up my time without prior arrangement, there is need for planning, appointments. However, the lesson from this man stuck with me.

I realize how many times I hesitate from action as I wait for the appropriate time or opportunity. I postpone actions that I need to take since “time is not yet ripe”. I am not even sure the term procrastinate quite captures it, it is more of waiting for my turn instead of jumping right in. When I think of a goal I aim for, often I will start thinking about the pros and cons. I will wait for the right moment. I will wait to gather more information. It seems like there is a time that will come when it will all be “clear to go” and the lights will all be green and voila!

That is not necessarily the case. In fact many times we just never think we are ready until we jump into it and learn in the process. We make mistakes, we learn, we make corrections and we move on. Most of the mistakes may not be obvious before you start. I can think of many things I have postponed from starting, from doing because the time doesn’t seem right. Eventually time goes and still they do not seem right. I am afraid of starting, I am scared I will not do it right. Ultimately it remains undone. In that case I never get to find out how able I was to undertake the task. Sometimes I hesitate to ask of someone some favor, and imagine it won’t be possible.

We all get to that point when we know something can be done, but since it doesn’t have to be done, or at least not yet, we sit back and wait for an ‘opportune moment’. It could be an idea that you have to do something, to start up something but you keep thinking “I am not ready yet” only to realize someone else has started and ran with it.

You may not get permission, do it anyway.