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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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Our loss! Musings of a Kenyan woman

Due to some technical problems I have not been able to watch Kenya news for a while now. Sometimes this is a good thing, some detox from news. But, I want to know what is happening in my homeland Kenya. I saw a friend post on facebook about matrimonial property, the 50/50 sharing of matrimonial property etc. I was not sure I wanted to find out what was happening but when a non-Kenyan colleague forwarded a BBC News update I knew ignoring is not making it go away. So here I am reading online comments from some of the members of parliament and wondering if it was worth it waking up early and traversing different counties talking about ‘Gains of the proposed constitution’ back in 2010.
recall why I was very keen on the constitution, because I had seen some gains for women and girls in Kenya and wanted to protect that. One of the clauses I liked is 45(3) “Parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of the marriage, during the marriage and at the dissolution of the marriage” among many others. However, day by day I see more efforts to reduce these gains if not removing them. The current members of the legislative body have a very unique role of ensuring that the provisions in the CoK 2010 have been put into laws. Most recent debate saw the proposal to deleting provisions in the Matrimonial Property Bill which wanted spouses to share property equally in case of separation r divorce.
Reading article in the Capital FM online News left me wondering if some of these persons are really living in this world!
>>>“Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Hon Samuel Chepkonga said most of male MPs loved their daughters, and whatever gifts they give the daughters on their wedding day should not be included under matrimonial property”
Hon Chepkonga sir, were you debating for your daughter or against your wife? For your wife is also someone’s daughter, you know! On the other hand, not many daughters’ of women are as lucky as your daughter, some of us need to feed our parents not get property from them at marriage. On the other hand, would you have minded sharing in your wife’s property? Does it mean the sons should also keep their pre-matrimonial property to themselves? So both start at square zero?
>>>>“MPs John Mbadi (Suba) and Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda) opposed the amendment saying “it does not protect their daughters’ welfare in a marriage. “If it were the case of my wife it would be very easy to deal with because I always register property with my wife… I’m protecting my sisters, my daughters, whom I don’t know how her husband will behave”
I am wondering really, aren’t these people hiding behind ‘daughter’ where they mean they don’t want their wives to have equality in marriage??
Hon Gumbo on the other hand claimed that the laws are to protect women and men since some men sit back and not work and hence wait to share in the woman’s property. At the face value it seems he has a very good point, but let us define what is working. I do not know of any women who does not work, maybe there are women who do not work and sit around waiting for husbands to provide. I can give it 1% as guess work. The large percentage of women work, no toil hard! But guess what, they have not a single penny paid to them for the work. They wake up at 5.00 am, prepare breakfast, fetch water, prepare children for school wash clothes, go to the garden,  prepare meals for family fetch fire world and many much more. This is the unpaid labour that more women than men are engaged in. This Kenyan woman will not have any property in her name at the end of the day. Her contribution will remain unseen since nobody measures how water is worth, and healthy children in ‘matrimonial property’. The man will pursue his career and accumulate property since there is someone somewhere who is in the house looking after the citizens of this country. Then what do we call her “housewife”.
Some Kenyan women do work more for a pay...but hold on; how many men have failed in getting a promotion since they could not go to work since the domestic worker took off without notice? Or who cannot go for important conference since they are pregnant and nursing? Guess how far the man will go and accumulate more property in the process.
However, my agitation is not personal, I am in the second category, possible can also get my ‘personal property’ that does not go into matrimonial property; but guess who loses?? My sister in the village whose contribution remains unseen, unaccounted for. Her work is not considered ‘work’ in fact even if you ask her she will say “I do not work”
>>>One Hon Lomenen wondered: “Before you marry, you pay a lot of dowry… so many cows, and after you pay all that, do you again share the remaining property?”
There you go; the thorny bride price question that is very jealously guarded by patriarchy to ensure dominance. Gone is the idea of ‘appreciate’ but to paying for a human being and guarantee some privileges over her. Either way, we lose!!!!

All in all, it more of wait and see to see if the 'contribution' of the spouses will be determined in fair way as the non-monetary contributions are hard to meausre

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rejoicing in the global Sisterhood

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey 

Last Sunday I had one of those moments that many questions linger and bother. In the process of trying to separate issues I felt down and I was not ready to share with anyone. ‘Unfortunately’ (and very fortunately) a sister of mine started chatting me and I found myself sharing a lot with her. There is something amazing about sisterhood, you know that there is this lady or these ladies whether you share blood relation to or not that you can easily share with and count on their support no matter what. That person who tells you “I am not tired of listening” I feel I am among the lucky women since I have several such sisters! My first experience of sisterhood is in my family, as I grew up. I recall my eldest sister, (RIP dear Jane) and how she ensured I was socialised as a young girl in work and play. While she was a disciplinarian, she also spoilt me especially in the garden where we each had a section to dig. This was one task that made me wish I can go to ‘child labour activists’. I would look at my share and wonder if I could weed or dig it in one year. She ensured that I got the space next to her and several steps ahead she would start digging my space and her space! It was a relief that when I was lagging behind I could suddenly exclaim” my portion of the land has dug itself” and go back to rest.

My mother has given me two more blood sisters; I am blessed to have them and I would not give up for anything in the world. There are many incidences of small gestures that I still recall from my blood sisters and feel very lucky to have them. They are there for me in more ways than I can count! I am also blessed to have several brothers and as a result sisters-in-law. In addition, there are many sisters that my mother did not give birth to, but as I grow up I have met many friends, girls who have ended up being sisters to me in every way. I can recall from childhood, some girls who were there for me, and throughout my teenage and now adult life. When I reflect on sisters that I have met along the way, I lack words to express just how lucky I am to have every one of them. Some of the sisters no longer hold the bond, but they were there for a time, for some season and left a mark in my life! The interesting thing is that if I try to see what I share with them, I won’t find much. It is not age as some are many years older than me or many years younger than me; neither is it tribe, nor religion nor education status, nor... All we share is sisterhood! Those deep love, that is only reserved for sisters and makes us feel safe with each other.

Today I celebrate all my sisters. 
The sisters who have laughed with,
  And tickled me when I was not ready to laugh,
The sisters who have cried with me,
                                           and listened without asking questions. 
Sisters who have celebrated with me, 
And given me a pat on the back even when I didn't think I deserved one, 
Sisters who have listened to me, 
And carried my burden to heart. 
Sisters who have challenged me to reach my full potential, 
and loved me with my imperfections. 
Sisters who have allowed me to say “I have messed again” 
And not judged me. 
Sisters who have supported me in thick and thin, 
And reminded me they are there. 
Sisters who with a smile have used their resources, 
Their time, their money, their emotions, 
And never sent me ‘IOU’ note. 
I dedicate to all my special sisters, 
Who have been in my life at one time or the other, 
I pray I have been a good sister too... 
At least sometimes!
 For the sisters I have spent time with, 
Or just chatted with, For those I have met, 
And for those I have not met physically; 
The sisters that we have shared deep secrets, 
May you be blessed in abundance! 
I celebrate you!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Keep your cool and tame your daughter, she deserved it

Dear Sir and madam, This is to let you know that your daughter Stacy was slapped by a boy in class. Now before you start getting annoyed please listen to these facts. First the boy is also 7 years old, they are kind of the same age. In this case really we cannot say there is bullying or anything. If he had slapped a three year old we would have taken action but now that they are kind of age mates or rather they are in the same class then you see it is not bullying. Secondly, your daughter asked for it. Relax I explain, she has not been behaving like a good girl. First let me define for you what a good girl does. A good girl doesn’t go into the boy’s turf, you see your girl is a ‘kiherehere’. The other day we had an argument in class and instead of her shutting up she was there making her point, in front of the boys imagine! A good girl keeps her cool and just smiles! Yes just smile and be a good girl that’s all. However you Stacy has been doing the opposite. When we ask for a class monitor, she raised her hand! Surely we know that she should not have done that but haa she did; doesn’t she realize that leadership is for the boys? Now if she is in that turf she needs to be tamed lest she grows a big head. On the other hand during the class debate she was seen to be assertive, you see aggressiveness is for boys so instead of being humble she kept insisting to be heard. You need to tame her. On this last incidence I am just writing to explain since I understand she has complained about it; doesn’t she know she deserved it? I am not sure what caused this but I can guess she deserved. She must have done something to annoy this boy who is the head of the class. How could she do this? Oh and the boy says he doesn’t remember, and I believe him, how can he remember such a minor issue? I advise that she stops making a fuss over this, keep her cool and move on. Yours head teacher, Signed. Reflections of a disturbed mind in the 21st century. No woman is safe until all women are safe, the house girl or the Member of Parliament, the beggar in the street or the nun in the convent. Nobody deserves to be violated, and sorting misunderstandings cannot be done physically. Adults talk, walk out, disagree, convince, but violence is a no no. As we debate the occurrences in Nairobi Hon Rachel Shebesh slapped (or is it alleged – politically correctness) by *Hon Evans Kidero, what are we telling the girls and boys growing up?? There is something degrading about a slap on the face! It speaks volumes about the person meting out the violence; regardless of their gender, age, political standing etc. Violence is about the perpetrator not of the survivor. How the society handles the issue determines the impunity with which it can be repeated; or as we say in Kenya ‘uta-do’ Sophie Ngugi September 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

‘Life skills for life’ as small acts count for life

Last week I had an interesting experience together with my colleagues as we visited some groups that are undergoing trainings in Mugwo Payam of Yei River County of South Sudan. Women for Women International (WfWI) works with socially excluded women affected by conflict and civil strife. The program empowers women through trainings and provision of resources in order to enable them sustain an income as well as get knowledge on key life issues around health, decision making and social networks. On this particular day we were accompanied by the WfWI Vice President Programs – Julianna - who had visited the South Sudan program, the Country Director - Lizy - among others. On the way we decided to enter the local market to buy a few fresh products as well as experience the local market. That is where an interesting incidence happened. We knew what we wanted to purchase and top on the list were pineapples, avocadoes, greens – items we know very well. As it is the case in many African countries majority of the sellers in the market were women. This is where we met an older woman who was selling some product that I have never seen and none of us really noticed it. This lady who I will call Joy since she seemed to radiate a lot of joy started gesturing towards us to buy her product. We have no idea what is this so why bother? But she insisted and started showing us how the product is eaten. She hurriedly started cracking it open with her teeth and this caught our attention and we stopped. She continued ‘talking to us’ but really none of us knew the language so we could not hear her but we ‘listened’ understood! She wanted us so much to buy her product and realized we may not have prior knowledge of this item but language was not going to be a barrier. Soon a crowd of other women in the market gathered around as she went on to gesture, speak and act to show us what the product was like inside when she broke it and started eating it. We were really touched by this as other women in the market watched amused and there was quite a bit of chatter. I made up my mind; I was going to buy this item that was costing 1 South Sudanese pound regardless of what it was. My colleague Lizy had been in process of buying some green vegetables from the neighbor to Joy when she (Joy) stopped us. Lizy had selected what she wanted to buy and wanted green vegetables worth 2 SSP. The least denomination I had was only 2 SSP and 1SSP had go to Joy and the least that Lizy had was 10 SSP. Joy’s neighbor a much younger woman had no balance to give us neither did she have a paper bag to pack for us the greens, but she was at the market. She did not make any efforts of looking for lose money or paper bag but it was more of “if you have lose money and paper bag you can buy my products, otherwise too bad” attitude. At first we thought we would then buy greens worth 1SSP. But guess what! Joy had several paper bags and after packing for me the ‘Joy-Fruits’ (Oh up to now I am not sure if they are fruits, or roots or legumes or…) she had bigger papers. Lizy commented “this woman is so organized” and quickly came with an idea; she would give Joy the 10 SSP and ‘buy’ a paper bag and the ‘Joy-Fruits’ from her then she can give the neighbor the 2SSP later on. That meant she would have 7SSP (about 2USD) as ‘courtesy cash’ for one old paper bag. A certain lady rushed to ‘save the situation’ since she could speak English thinking we were taking advantage of Joy in taking her paper bag to buy products from the neighbor. But somehow Joy already understood this transaction and she was beaming and said ‘Asante…thank you’ but those were the only Kiswahili and English words she knew. We left the market awed and we are not likely to forget Joy any time soon. I know if I go to that location I will want to go to the market again and seek her out and see what she has to sell to me. Small acts matter a lot. The life skills that one has as they engage in business may make a difference between them getting profits or not. I will not excuse the other lady to culture etc. since they were obviously living in the same locality hence likelihood of similar socialization but Joy had discovered that business is about small acts that will enable a customer to come back. I hope that incidence gave the other women who gathered around some food for thought.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reflections on sisterhood and mentorship

“When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, 'Yes, someone like me can do this.” ― Sonia Sotomayor
Just what is mentorship? I once saw a quote that charity is one beggar telling another where s/he found bread”. In the women’s movement we have thrived on mentorship, on women who have carried us on their shoulders so that we don’t stumble on the same spot they tripped. It is my belief that we will have lived our worth if our younger sisters do not have to go through the same mistakes we made. This is not about older and younger women really; everyone has younger women and girls looking up to her and vice versa. This includes supporting younger ones who are starting out, not stifling their efforts. It includes correcting each other and taking the corrections in stride, in sisterhood. It includes holding each other accountable and challenging them to live up to what we know they are capable of. A young woman recently told me she has really asked several persons to mentor her as she is still in college but getting no response or “I am not available” has really disappointed her so she is still struggling to find her way. It didn’t help that she had nasty experiences from some older sister in the movement as she strived to try out and made some mistakes. Another one told me how excited she is after meeting a mentor I had linked her to. She feels that her life will never be the same again. (Since I don’t have permission will not put any names). The latter was on a trial basis that a friend of mine Rahma (for her I don’t need permission) started on and I picked up, linking younger girls and young women to our friends to mentor them. I linked several young women and one of them my cousin called to give me feedback. She was very impressed that another older-young woman was willing and ready to take time to speak with her and give her some guidance in line with her career path. She was excited after the first meeting, someone she has never met before but felt encouraged and sure her career life will be better because of this interaction that has started. It starts with our very own sisters, nieces, daughters. I believe I can make a difference in the gender agenda if we can hold my younger sisters and point to them once in a while what I know by virtue of lived experience. I can also gain from older sisters in the movement doing the same to me, which when we look up and wonder how did you ever get there? The older sisters can tell enable me to know if that was magic or if I am on the right path. I recall sharing with some younger women that I worked with during a young women’s mentorship forum and the female colleagues later on took me to task. Are you sure? You mean it was never that smooth? I could relate to them as a fresh graduate from college venturing into the NGO arena. Sometimes we feel that we are not made headway but it helps to know what others have gone through and realize it is human. It is especially harder for women since the societal expectations often put us on such a pedestal that leave us feeling we can’t afford to be that human! We look at others and imagine they have it all together and wonder when we will ever get it ‘all together’. We forget that everyone one has their story. It doesn’t take much; then again it takes a lot. Sometimes it is just listening and assuring the younger women (or older woman) that she is on the right path. Sometimes it is reminding them to be gentle with themselves. Other times it is giving a part on the back, affirming little efforts. Other times it will be sharing what did and what did not work. Sometimes it will be challenging and correcting. Everyone by virtue of being alive has lots of wisdom. More so it involves encouraging not stepping on younger sisters who are still fumbling around. It means a lot to hold another sister’s hand. That’s my challenge for you and me. Oh and mentorship is two way, you can also learn from the younger ones! I appreciate that there are many sisters I can call out to in different areas of my life. One of them is close to10 years younger than me! I still have gaps in some areas of my life that need mentors but I also have many older & younger sisters that have been my amazingly supportive sisters. Those who have reminded me that I am only human; offered a shoulder to lean on. We all need someone to lean on.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A sister’s keeper is one mouthful from the sea

“I can’t do this anymore!” Those were the words of my colleague and I looked up at her wondering “what now”? She repeated “I cannot do this work anymore”. And that was when it dawned on me what she was talking about. I was trying to block it out of my mind and I even made to her a gesture of ‘block it” but I knew I was lying to myself. We had just had a brief meeting with a lady who visited our office. I will call her Hope, since that’s all that can help her live on. Hope had made a decision earlier in her life as to how she want to live, but when I was called and met her she was not living that dream. She was holding her 2 month’s old second born baby boy who seemed more interested in watching the lights, shades, and other colors than breastfeed. He is happy, and ignorant of circumstances around him. Hope wanted to consecrate her life to God by living as a nun. People chose different vocations in life, and hope to find God in those vocations. It could be marriage, single life or religious life. She had chosen the religious life and she was living the best of what she could until it happened. One day, some man abducted and raped her, and took her to be his 9th wife! South Sudan has been at war for a while, until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The violence is not completely over, but to a large extent in most areas there is peace. But not for Hope! What does peace mean to this woman who was brutally raped, forced into marriage, ran away, was taken back and now has her second child from a man she hardly knows and fears. To make matters worse, the man tore all her certificates so now she can only say she has done some academic courses but nothing to prove. She has no resources to enable her travel to Uganda where she schooled to get some copies of certificates. She is now living with her mother and hardly able to fend for herself and her children. How does one continue encountering these and remain sane? That was the question my colleague was alluding to. Her passion for women’s emancipation and more on gender based violence against women is an issue we have in common, no wonder she called me to also meet this young woman. As I listened to Hope amid tears that she struggled to control, the thoughts that crossed my mind were nothing hopeful. I was wondering how many more ‘HOPES’ are barely existing due to low self-esteem caused by such violations. Women’s violations during war are so common that one shudders thinking about these. Where will our sisters, mothers, be safe? This is not only in countries in conflict but common even in the so called ‘peaceful’ countries. Last week I saw a clip aired on a Kenyan media house about gang rapes happening in some part of Nairobi. It is insane!! Why do human beings subject other human beings to such? When will women be safe? The helplessness that one feels encountering such women makes one feel like closing eyes very tight and assume it is not happening. It can get overwhelming, very sad, very draining. The saddest part for every woman knows it can happen to you, me, my sister, my mother…to any woman or girl. The ‘sadddestestest’ knowing that such perpetrators usually go scot free and continue causing harm all over. When will it ever stop? Sometimes it feels like trying to scoop water from the sea. I am encouraged by the words of the Late Wangari Maathai, that like a humming bird I can do the little I can, everyone passionate about the cause can do something little. Get one mouthful of water from the sea. Sometimes it’s the least we can do, touch one woman’s life and be a sister’s keeper. Sometimes it is what one sister just needs.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Strong woman’s right to be ‘weak’

Strong woman’s right to be ‘weak’ This weekend my friend *Cate (not her real name) shared what she was going through and what struck me was her words “I don’t want anybody to tell me I am strong and can handle this”. That resonated with me so well. *Cate has been going through some very difficult moments in the last three or so months. This has seen her go undergo surgical procedure that has altered her life. Sometimes she shares her thoughts and lonely challenging moments, other times her high moments. I think she has been very powerful in the way she has been handling the issue, she has walked high in the experience and even in denial moments, moments that she has wondered if many things in her life will matter anymore. When she shared with me her thoughts that she could only put on paper and I read those words, all I could think of was “gal I know that only too well”. I am not sure how many times people have told me that since it is countless. However I know there are times when that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I remember a time I was undergoing quite some challenging stuff and I thought “if one more person tells me I am strong enough for this, I will scream on top of my voice, and I might injure somebody”. Sometimes people mean well, but even well-meant sincere actions or words do not make it right. I have come across the term ‘sincerity is not enough’ and it speaks to me often. One way I can think of explaining this sometimes last year when a very enthusiastic petrol station attendant put diesel in my car! He was the most welcoming attendant I had met, and looking away few seconds and voila! My car had diesel and to make the long story short, instead of proceeding for an important meeting I spent the rest of the day in the garage coaxing the car into action. His sincere actions were wrong. Some well-meant but not thought out actions or words can really hurt. Sometimes they are not well meant, just careless and not thought out. We are perpetrators of this all too often. Sometimes friends do some insensitive actions and we do the same to others and really hurt them. I still vividly recall when I was 18 years of age, and my older sister passed away. It was the most painful experience I had gone through and somehow adults did not seem to realize an 18yr old hurts deeply. Somehow I recall a lot of insensitivity by some well-meaning adults in my life at that time. I still remember how painful it was and how looking at my then very young nephews would send me back to bed crying and trying to keep a strong face for them. It was in that mood that on the burial day, still in denial my auntie admonished me “Sophie, do not cry, be strong, there are no tears today”. I was so hurt and found that to be the most insensitive comment anyone had ever told me in my young life. I hated that auntie for a while, I am sure she never knew but I could not face her happily, until some years later when I realized she meant no harm. I recall while in campus and a friend lost her mother, and how her relatives acted and talked! One commented that when one is a believer in Christ she should be strong and belief! What the heck?? My friend was in her early 20s, first born left in charge of her mother’s family as her dad had passed on earlier on in their lives. If we are to go all Biblical, even Jesus wept over Lazarus death. Some experiences may not be death experiences, but affect and touch our lives in very deep ways. The experience that Cate is going through is quite painful for a young woman. I am certain that in her circle of friends nobody has had to go through a similar experience. We can therefore say sincerely, we do not understand what she is going through. The least we can do is empathize, allow her to be sad and be with her in her sadness, support her to be happy and be with her in her happiness, and more so be with her in the little ways we can. This concept of ‘strength of a woman’ has been taken too far, and often denies women of strength the chance to be vulnerable and weak when they need to. Who determines the duration of time that one should mourn a loss? Cry? Who sets the limits? Who set the limits of which woman is allowed to break down and one who is meant to hold her head high and ‘move on’? I wonder. I believe a woman need to connect with her true self and even feel her own weakness without having the whole world telling her how she is their source of strength hence she is not allowed to be ‘weak’. For the records I don’t think crying is weak but we know if you burst crying in the board room it won’t be ‘wooh what a strong woman’…unless of course you are Obama and they say “ he was so moved”. Sometimes I need to just let out and not be told about strength coz I feel no strength until am ready to wake up and wipe my tears. This must be what moved Dolly Parton to write the song where part of the words are “It's my time gather round girls, you I grew up with. My old friends that I used to scuff with, need you round me at this time, you've all had your turn to cry. And old friend stood closely by, friends of mine, Stand by me, cause it's my time, It's my time, it's my time, It's my time to cry, Mm mmm, it's my time to cry, Oh oh oh oh” It’s my turn to cry The truth had dawned on *Cate with severity, she had no right to be weak! Or does she? Of course she does, she has a right to be, or else she will feel that she is dead, as expressed in the poem Black Woman is Dead that says in part“...on August 15, 1999 at 11:15 p.m. while struggling with the reality of being a human instead of a myth, the strong black woman passed away. Medical sources say she died of natural causes, but those who knew her know she died from being silent when she should have been screaming, smiling when she should have been raging, from being sick and not wanting anyone to know because her pain might inconvenience them.” Let the woman of strength grab back the right to be weak!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Going back to the roots to inspire girls to dream

Memories take me back to some very good friends in primary school who I wish to talk about. While I was in primary class 8, my best friend was Claris Wanjiru*. She was a determined girl coming from a family where the father was irresponsible leaving all responsibilities to the mother. When we did the primary school exams she passed well enough to get admission to a secondary school, but that was not to be. She never stepped into a secondary school. 20 years later, I have no idea where she is but recently I met her mother. She informed me that Claris is living in very poor conditions, having married twice and separated barely able to make ends meet. I asked for her telephone number so I could seek her out, she had none. My friend Benadine Wambui* was among the older girls in class having repeated classes. I liked that she was mature and humble. However, she had low esteem issues, having to school with much younger girls. It did not help that teachers made fun of her & humiliated her. One day she simply did not come to class, and that was her last day in school. She dropped out and got married immediately. She must have been about 15 or 16 yrs. These are just among the many girls I saw drop out of primary school during my 8 years of schooling. I was lucky to have been brought up in a family that greatly value education. Despite being a humble family, we all got education up to college level and it did not matter if you were a girl or a boy. However this is not the case for many girls in the community. One of my neighbours for example openly ‘informed’ my dad that he was wasting money on girls who would “eventually get married and move away”. The girls in his family barely got educated most of them not even getting halfway through primary school. They got married before 15 years of age or got children. Despite having a significant level of poverty, the main challenge is not poverty but rather attitude. Where families do not believe in educating girls, they drop out and eventually it becomes a cycle. When a girl grows up in a family where barely anyone accessed education, they lack mentors and never feel inspired to pursue education. The last born of my neighbour’s family for example was supported to go up to secondary school. I can assume that by then the family had seen the value of education. However, she performed very poorly and was often involved in negative peer behaviors like alcoholism. In contrast I got up to university level education, and by the time I was at university I could count on one finger the number of girls, who were my class mates who had college degrees. I have been very passionate about making a difference. I would look back to my former primary school and realize that hardly any girls were getting into secondary school. My dream was to inspire the pupils, girls and boys to realize they can make it. I had weird recurrent dreams where I would find myself stuck and unable to climb stairs in my former primary school. Eventually I decided to give it a try accompanied by my sister I went to the school, and met the head teacher, and that was the beginning of the ‘Dare to Dream mentors’ program. I engaged a few friends and we started going back to the school every 1-2 months to inspire the pupils. The pupils found it unbelievable when I told them that I schooled in the same school and managed to go a national school (the highest category). We discuss different aspects of life skills and academics. This has greatly inspired the pupils and three years later, we have realized a great improvement in their performance. Eventually this led to another aspect which I had tried to avoid, school fees. We were faced with one challenge last year when one pupil had passed very well but could not access education. We started some support and this year I mobilized a few professionals to form a welfare group to pay fees for a few needy students. We now have 2 girls and one boy who would not have had hopes of getting secondary school education. I am very excited about this initiative and I know that the efforts may seem small but will impact one a few girls, who will impact families, who will impact community, Kenya and the whole world! It’s my mission and I give monetary, time and other resources for this. I just realized the other day that the scary dreams stopped!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Our voices in a powerful dance- By Sophie Ngugi

I seek not the voice of the president, I seek not the voice of the queen, I seek not the voice of the prince, For them, we hear, Whether we seek them or not, I seek not the voice of the high and mighty, But I seek your voice mama. I seek your voice mama, For your nurtured the presidents and the mighty, Every day you toil, with resilience on your back, And determination in your stomach, On your left you carry courage, And on your right hope, On your laps is love, Enough love to tenderly cover all humanity. I seek your voice sister, For you rule the world, If only you knew! If only you knew how, Your voice and mine will make a mighty thunder, No longer shall be silent For in silence we ache, And deny the world the great and gracious, You are the pulse of the world. Awake and rise, Rise up to meet yourself, For you have the right to sway, and swing, To dance and dance, For it is a powerful dance, Where we all join, With the trees swaying to the rhythm, And the birds whisper a melody, For the universe knows its child is awake, She is awake to her mighty self, Joining in the voices from east to west, From north to south, We put our rhythm together, All in the powerful dance. Together we are transforming the world, We shall be silent no more, For the world needs to hear you, For her-story will be heard, And the dance will go on And on And on

Sexy, decent, smart- When is it my choice?

Today I write about dresses, dressing. I cannot talk of dressing without remembering some of the great girls in my life that inspire me, my nieces. My nieces are an interesting lot and each of them has her own special way but for now let me focus on three. My niece Valerie has her own unique taste of clothes. I remember the day that with my younger sister we decided to have the ‘auntie of the year award’ by taking her shopping for clothes; not buy for her but take her to choose. She was very excited to be treated in such ‘adult way’ (she was about 5 yrs). We had in mind what we could have shopped for her, that Cinderella kind of dressing. Don’t girls look pretty in them, especially something red or pink? But no way, she wanted some jeans trouser! That was no easy task considering her tiny body. Eventually we got one that fitted her ‘hips’ and all and the girl was happy; her choice. She has made it clear she doesn't like long dresses, be it uniform or Sunday best. I recall an incidence where Bridget her younger sister, caused drama in a shop, she wanted open shoes! She was about 3 or 4 yrs and she was wondering why discrimination of her getting open shoes. We all know low heels closed shoes are more comfortable for young girls, right? But not her, she had had enough of that and now she had specific taste, open and with heels! After quite some bargaining the mother decided it was time, thinking she would soon get tired of the high heels and go back to closed shoes. (FYI she never got tired). Eventually the mother gave in and took the girl ‘shopping’ for her choice of shoes. She is not one to throw tantrums but that day she did! The shop attendants were trying to be helpful and brought some closed shoes, and the girl could have shot someone! Eventually with her tiny feet we got fitting shoes, and she was happy excited and ‘lived happily ever after’. As for Bakhita, another of my many nieces, she has decided she want my red dress! There are times we imagine that children will get inspired by graduation gowns to think “I want to get a degree” but when we were celebrating my MA graduation we were surprised! She was not interested in black funny gown; she wanted and still wants my red dress. (It will possibly fit her in about 25 or so years). I could go on and on, but why do these girls at that age make those decisions? I don’t know, but it’s their choice! Why am on and on about dresses and girls? Two weeks ago somewhere in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some idle men decided that they did not appreciate the choice of dressing of some woman. The lady was apparently ‘indecent’ so in a strange way of probably making her more ‘decent’ undressed her in public! I do not know how this lady was dressed, because by the time the issue became news she was no longer dressed. The first time I saw some pictures online about that issue I quickly logged off and closed my ears. Later on I saw the same piece of news and realized this was for real. I felt some bile in my stomach as I tried to put myself in the shoes of that lady who was traumatized by such inhuman acts. I was chatting with a friend Nancy Muigei who had posted a news clip and I decided to watch it. Eventually as we chatted we came up with idea of making this issue more national concern in the only way we could at that time, online mobilizing. I spent the better part of the Easter weekend on this; it’s a gross violation on women which is rarely if ever addressed. This is not the first time I have blogged about women and the patriarchal definition of dressing and dress code. I recall an experience I had one Sunday morning when I had gone for field work in Makueni. That was around 2005. That was one of the few times if not the only time that Sunday got me there and so I sought to find out where I could attend mass and found a Church that was nearby. I do not recall but I suspect that the mass must have been in Kiswahili since I vividly recall feeling it was one of the times that I was really present and enjoyed the mass. It came to a time that is very important for us Catholics, and so I joined other Christians in receiving the Holy Communion. A certain man crossed my path and started whispering to me but I could not understand the language neither did I know there was a ‘policeman’ for Holy Communion. Soon after a certain woman quickly came ‘to my rescue’ and that’s when I realized what it was all about! I did not have a head scarf, and the woman was offering me one. (Maybe I should also mention I was wearing trousers). I looked at this woman who was trying to be helpful and this ‘policeman’ and at first I thought of going to the priest and see what he would do but quickly thought no worth my efforts and walked out. I have been a Catholic since I was born, participated in organizing many liturgical events, taken more readings in Church than I can remember but the last time I wore a head scarf –white - must be when I received Holy Communion at 8 or 9 years old. Even in social life head scarf has never been part of my attire even while wearing African dress it is on vary rare occasions (and mostly through someone else’s efforts) you can find a scarf on my head. I have no issues with head scarves, I find women wearing especially the designed West African scarves to look really hot! But it’s not part of me, not my choice. The reason I refused the head scarf was not much to do with activism (it’s a while back) but mostly to do with faith. My reasoning was that if I accepted that head scarf it meant that had been something wrong (read sinner) throughout mass so why ‘pretend’ at Holy Communion. Since this was the first and the last time that ever happened, and I have continued being a catholic, anyone dares to tell me that it was about religion/faith? The girl in Nyeri was not as lucky and neither was she in Church but in a bus stop. The reason I so eagerly engaged and worked hard to coordinate and keep this campaign active is because of the action itself and also the underlying factors. Watching the clip that was aired by KTN left me quite surprised, annoyed and concerned. To start with, the media presenters aired the news item in a rather flippant manner making it a laughing matter. It was worse that one presented was female, did she not realize she can fall prey to the same? Some women who were there looked on as the message of “be advising your daughters how to dress” were promoted. One woman even said that it was a lesson for that lady and other women who should learn to wear trousers and “not tempt our husbands”. (I think here men should get annoyed on my behalf). I felt pity for this woman, did she actually believe that if women are tied in lessos trousers or bui buis than men will stop cheating! And does she believe men are such weak helpless creatures? Was her reason of wearing trousers motivated by whether she wanted to feel smart, sexy, relevant, decent or whatever motivated her, or was it so as not to ‘tempt men’? Do men who claimed she was indecent want us to believe they are helpless characters ‘tempted by the daughters of eve’ from the creation of the world? Did they make her ‘more decent’ by undressing her? Who appointed them the ‘dress police’? This is not an isolated case as similar cases have been reported in the past. On February 17th a woman was undressed in Kitengela for being ‘dressed provocatively’. Earlier in the year a woman was undressed in Nakuru and many more cases some of which are not reported in the media. In 2008, women were violated and harassed by illegal groups for dressing in trousers or miniskirts during the post elections violence. I recall uncertain and anxious moments as we left office for home wondering if to look for lessons and carry yet wearing jeans was best choice in uncertain moments when there was violence in various parts; yet some illegal group was undressing women in trousers since it was apparently against their ‘culture’. The culture excuse has been used so often it is annoying. If we were to go back to culture, can those men tell us which African culture wore trousers among men? After the Nyeri incident another women in the same locality was threatened with undressing by her religious group because of dressing ‘indecently’ in trousers! So what is decent? And who defines it? And why does it only apply to women? And what is the law against ‘indecent’? More so how does undressing an ‘indecent’ lady make her more decent? These are some of the issues that were raised in the online campaign “Say No to Undressing and Violation of Women’ with very interesting views. Women continuously face violation and perpetrators go scot-free. The constitution of Kenya 27(4) states that “The State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth. (5) A person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against another person on any of the grounds specified or contemplated in clause (4). It is therefore perturbing such incidences continue to happen and go un-addressed. It is a form of violation that if not addressed will continue recurring and adds on to many other violations that women and girls have often gone through. Patriarchy has a way of dominating women even in the various ways and lack of strong voice condemning this makes the practice continue without being addressed. For the second time that I recall, some male politician is bringing a bill to the Uganda parliament to legislate against miniskirts! A few years back there had been a similar motion or comment in parliament where a minister claimed that women wearing miniskirts were the main cause of accidents in Uganda as men stared! God help this daughter of eve! During the ‘Say No to Undressing and Violation of Women’ campaign, the most disappointing part was realizing how some of the leaders including female leaders were unwilling to engage with the issue. Did they seem to think they are beyond this? Any woman regardless of social status can undergo this and other related violations. I recall an incident where a tout pinched the breasts of a police woman! Eventually we got commitment after a press conference to have the issue addressed by the governor of Nyeri, and we hope this happens. Dressing is often used to justify other Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) like rape and defilement. It is not unusual to hear questions like “how was she dressed” being used. It is therefore imperative to nip such behaviors. The campaign is not a once off event, and I believe this is a movement that will last. I will not wait for the day I face similar actions or my sister or my friend or my niece of whomever other women known or unknown to me. I will not want a day when my niece will report that a certain boy pinched her because she was dressed ‘indecently’; or my nephew pinches a girl and says she was not dressed properly. A disclaimer is that I am not saying women should dress in one way or the other, I just know I do not dictate to them, unless they are less than 18yrs of age and under my wings; and even then, they still have preferences and choices and in the event their choices seem off, there is a respectful way of handling it. Undressing is just a pathetic excuse of some idle minds and perpetrators of violence against women. It is a woman’s choice and right to dress how she feels or how she want to feel; Formal Sexy Smart African Informal It is her choice, it is my choice

Friday, March 29, 2013

The language of Easter

Tomorrow will mark two weeks since I landed in Yei South Sudan, and I must say I have been doing well in trying to get my way round. However I had been missing out on Church and being Easter weekend it was pertinent for me to find a way of communing with other Catholics. Since my younger days, and then reinforced more in my college days, Lent period and Easter have been my most favorite seasons in the calendar of the Church. In the Catholic Church this is the period where you experience more of the interesting rituals that define our faith. The period between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday are the great Easter Trindium. On Holy Thursday we commemorate the Passover linking the old and the New Testament and more so the sacrament of Eucharist when Jesus had his last meal and hence the priests/ ordination. Most churches will have a mass in the evening, several activities on Good Friday (the crucifixion of Jesus); then Easter vigil mass on Saturday and on Sunday when we commemorate the ‘morning after’ disciples realized he had risen. I enjoy this season! That is why I looked forward to celebrate at least some these commemorative days by going to Church. I was therefore happy when I found myself at St Bakhita Cathedral Church. I had been informed the ‘Way of the Cross’ would be in English but apparently not. Luckily I had my Kiswahili missal with me. The congregation used the Bare Language and I followed using my Kiswahili version! Since this is familiar I followed what was being done and said, and even silently sang my own songs! We were together. Of course before the procession I started imagining what the priest was actually saying as he introduced the procession. He was courteous to say a few sentences in English. I always find it interesting when I find myself in a place where there is language barrier, but one thing is obvious. We can greet each other, may be by smiling, or waving, and that is understandable. We can also trade, using gestures where we can just indicate 2,5 …and the transactions go on. Of course it is not always smooth. This begs the question, is there a universal language? Even sigh language is not universal I understand. It was a hilarious moment in Kenya during the elections results announcement when Kenyans who have no clue about sign language started imagining what personal characteristics the sign language interpreters were using to indicate different presidential candidates. Some claim that there is universal language, love. A song that was common in my former secondary school Christian Union comes to mind. I recall some of the words of this song “love in any language, straight from the heart, join us together never apart. And when we learn to live it…Love in any language is the language spoken there” I am not sure I get all the words correct, but yes, love as a language that different people can understand. I am reading one interesting book called “ Say you are one of them” by Uwem Akpan who I must commend has a way of describing some occurrences in African set up that make the stories so real. One of the stories that he tells is based in Addis Ababa of some two little girls who loved each other so much as “Best Friends”. They went to school; salon etc together and even chose the same styles. Many called them twins since they behaved as such. They used to feel that the world was big enough for just the two of them. One day, the main character wakes up, not in her bed but in her parents’ bed and her parents were fussing over her. She did not understand. There was smoke and signs of burning in the neighbourhood. After breakfast, she asked as was the norm, if she could and play with her friend Salem. But her parents asked her to seat for an important discussion. “We do not want you to play with that girl again” they said “What girl?” she wondered. “That Muslim girl” “Best friend?” she wondered; as she had never referred or heard her best friend being referred to as the ‘Muslim girl’. After some violence had rocked the city, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ had become pronounced and as result these two girls were ordered never to speak with each other. They both felt sad about, each one wondering if the other missed her as much as she missed her. The girls would stare at each other’s balcony behind the blinds. One day one of them got the confident to come out of the blind, and the other one followed suit. They looked at each other for a while, and later one of them waved. The other waved back, and they smiled at each other. One sent hugs and kisses, by hugging herself and blowing a kiss to the friend, and the other followed suit. They were excited and happy, they had discovered their language. They now knew that their parents could not keep them apart. Well, well, isn’t language amazing! We all have our universal and coded language. That specific language; which if you are in a crowded place some occurrences will make you both exchange glances; that only you understand. For Christians the language of Easter is love. We believe that God realized there was no other language that the human beings would understand better than sending Jesus, the image of God to live as human and die like a criminal. While it happened many years ago, we remind ourselves every year of the journey from birth to death. Have a love filled Easter!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Outliers, luck or fate?

A few minutes ago, in the process of reading a certain document, I came across a picture of a school and pupils learning. I stared at it for a long while, not because I have not come across these kind of schools over and over, but I was wondering “how will this boy and this girl compete in this global world?” The school am speaking of is a shed with poles at the side and a bit of grass for a roof. If it rains, there cannot be school. The children are sitting on the floor, some on stones and some of some make-shift benches. Needless to say there is no blackboard and I am yet to figure out what the teacher is writing on. Luckily I can see some if not all of the pupils holding pens and paper! This is not a unique sight, it is seen over and over in many rural and informal settlement urban areas many countries in Africa. However, in another place, within the same country, or in neighboring countries, there is another child whose main worry is where is a new computer game! This got me reflecting about people and communities that I have come across and it struck me that luck and fate determines a lot. I am not suggesting that you “pray not to be hit by a car and sit on the road” as one of my great friend’s mum commented (hilarious story for another day) but rather that there are some circumstances that are beyond one’s control that determine their life. Sometimes we can do something about it but sometimes we cannot. I was discussing an issue with some girlfriends regarding how women and men live and believe in life when one friend commented that it is sad they are missing out a lot. But the rejoinder was, they do not know what you know, so they are not missing anything. If someone is living in a deep village where the main prestigious meal is beef they will not miss out on how pizza is delicious; or for that matter brooding over terrific Tuesday. Sometimes it pays not to know. Back to my luck and fate hypothesis, a few days ago I watched a video online by one of the Kenya media stations on “Kibaki’s siblings”. Hon Mwai Kibaki has been the president of Kenya for the last 10 years and has a lot of CV under his sleeves including being a Makerere graduate and many years as Member of Parliament for Othaya constituency. Makerere is a public University in the neighboring Uganda but in Kenya it is synonymous to the ‘bright boys of pre-independence era”. And now that I think of it, I don’t recall any Kenyan woman associated with Makerere! It is generally accepted that persons who went to Makerere are now controlling world in various ways. However that was not the main thing that caught my attention watching that vide, this is already in public domain. One of the older siblings of President Kibaki who was interviewed mentioned that Kibaki having been the younger one ‘was not useful’ in the home – read herding cattle- and since there was a requirement to take “one boy” to school he was ‘chosen’ to fulfill that obligation. At that time, the young boy might have felt ‘unlucky’ to miss out on the fun of what boys did away in the fields to go spend time in a classroom. Is it fate or sheer luck that he got an education that made his life take a completely different direction from that of his siblings? I recall while reading memoir of the late Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai (RIP) and a similar occurrence struck me. Wangari mentions that after her family relocated from Nakuru to Nyeri one day her elder brother, Nderitu, wanted to know why he had to go to school when Wangari did not. The boy did not understand gender issues and the fact that girls were not considered a priority to go to school. He could have been thinking that it was unfair for him to be made to go to school while Wangari did not! Regardless of the reason that the brother had for asking, the mother did not have a good answer and thought ‘why not’. That possibly abrupt occurrence set out the path for Wangari. Later on since the walk home was long hence not safe for a girl she went to a boarding school which increased her chances even more. One need to understand that in those days education was not a priority and educating girls was even rarer. First forward years later, Wangari was to become the first woman in in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, founder of the Green Belt Movement, first African woman to win the Nobel Prize among many other great achievements. Some ‘minor’ occurrences impact lives forever. My mother has told us that her father was very opposed to girls going to school so there was no question about it. However, her youngest sister was lucky to get basic education since (like Kibaki) she was ‘useless’ in the home. Unfortunately for her, when she got admission to a prestigious girls’ secondary boarding school my grandfather felt that if she went to secondary school far from home she would be bad girl and that was the end of my aunt’s education! How would life have turned for her if she had pursued secondary school education; or for my mother? We can only speculate, but will never know. This brings me to a very interesting book I read called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He explored how the ‘outliers’, those persons who are outside of the average in their group/ achievement graph. This is a non-fiction book based on a critical look at various people in history with various achievements and occurrences that were not the norm among populations. He defines outliers as exceptional people who are smart, rich or very successful who operate at the extreme of what would be called “statistically plausible”. The book discuss how certain factors like family, culture among others play an important role in an individual’s success and pose the question whether successful people deserve the amount of praise we give them. However, he adds the "10,000-Hour Rule", where he argues that to a large extent for one to be a great success in a field one needs to practice about 10,000 times. I will summarize a few of the issues that Malcom highlights. He examines various factors that contribute to high levels of success. He looks at how successful Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year and link this to the time of recruitment to the game. Taking an example of the ice hockey players, he argues that since eligibility youth hockey leagues is determined by the year one was born, someone born say January and December of the same year are considered in the same league. He further theorizes that since those born in the early months of the year are more mature, almost a year older for some to the peers, they are identified as being better players hence getting more coaching. Other persons /groups mentioned include Bill Gates, the Beatles singers among others. He further examines cultural and socialization aspects that affect how people behave. E.g. the fact that some cultures are assertive hence a mechanic noticing a problem in an aircraft will inform the pilot boldly while another will merely suggest and this can determine possibility of a plane crash or not. On less acclaimed levels, it is clear that certain achievements are determined by aspects that are beyond our control. If I was born in a culture where educating girls was unheard of; girls get married in teenage, I would not have had to the privilege of making some choices. My experience working in communities for over ten years always gives me such aha moment as I interact with various people in different communities. In most instances aspects of empowerment like access to education which is among the most of basics are a rare privilege. Nelson Mandela is quoted saying “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The first five of the UN Millennium Development Goals in my view are based on the most basic of human needs; 1) Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, 2) Achieving universal primary education, 3) Promoting gender equality and empowering women, 4) Reducing child mortality rates, 5) Improving maternal health. In my view is that access to education is one of the greatest resources than one can get. This can help in realizing ‘individual MDGs’. However, not everyone is born in area or culture that promotes access to education. If one has not seen benefits of education, will they even realize they are missing out? If children are schooling in such deplorable conditions, how do they fit in this ‘global world?’ Sometimes its hard work Sometimes its determination Sometimes its other values; given that people in similar conditions do not necessarily achieve the same in life due to the efforts they put into it; Nonetheless sometimes it’s really luck or fate! Being in the right place at the right time!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nostalgically…I am back!

“I deserve to just break down and cry now”! Those were my thoughts on Friday morning, 16th March 2013 as anxiety finally crept on me as I prepared to go to the airport. My friend Rahma actually validated this “I would have been worried if you are not a bit anxious” She knows how to say the right thing always. Why I have been so calm about this? I wondered. Somehow only one tear fell! I was okay and happy, as I prepared to go back to South Sudan. I recalled the last time I had been in this country in 2007. I could recall with nostalgia the time I flew out of Juba and looking from the sky thought “I am not coming back here”. My experience in Juba had been an interesting one that I still remember with a smile. I had been ignorant of what to expect but somehow got over the culture shock quite fast. The language barrier did not help matters especially when there was a public announcement and we could not comprehend. The scariest had been a curfew, where Justa my colleague and I had no idea what was happening and had been prepared to go to work as usual. For many that was nothing but the two of us having not experienced that before it was scary. We had coined a phrase “but then” as we made fun that any person would not have believed our experiences since they would have to be punctuated by “but then” hence removing the positivity. We were not just melancholic, for real life had a way of just putting some twists every now and then. It was more of what Kenyans would currently say “ni kama drama ni kama video”. The first mishap was that the office we were going to establish in Juba was to get most of the office stuff, computers, stationery, and furniture from the Nairobi office which had been in operation for some time. The network we were going to work for was to closing most of the operations in Nairobi and have Juba office fully operational. However the person contracted to transport the furniture to Juba decided to do some shady deals and use another organization’s transport space. The short of it was that he was to get away paying the costs and ‘hide’ under the other organization’s cargo. Things did not work as the person who was to receive our organizations’ equipment was not accessible by the time the transporter reached Juba. This started a long tussle with the person who had legally hired the transporter that lasted a while hence we had an office space without equipment. Some of the equipment had been purchased afresh hence were transported by air, but then the day my colleague landed in Juba with the equipment was the day the government introduced tax for NGOs equipment so this was again held at the airport. Eventually after a month we managed to retrieve the equipment from the transport saga, but then a good number of pieces were broken or spoilt, and small parts missing. So we could barely fix the computers, a cable missing here and there, board room table had leg broken…etc. A Kenyan friend helped us once in a while to mitigate some of these experiences…friends are friends forever! He came in handy when we were stranded. Another interesting experience was trying to get a mwiko (specific wooden spoon used in Kenya for cooking ugali which was our favorite meal). We tried without success and we could not manage to use the kind of cooking spoon that was used locally. Eventually after more than a month, someone brought us mwiko from Kenya, but then by then the maize flour had gone bad having warms due to the heat and the fact that we had not made arrangements to store it well to avoid heat and humidity. I don’t remember how we sorted our craving for ugali! Of course our Sudanese colleagues never understood the fuss over this small wooden stick. As part of making life more comfortable we had plumber repair the piping system in the house so that when we purchased water we could have it in the pipes! And voila we could finally use tapped water, I remember how that evening felt when we could eventually take a shower and have the 1,000l tank full! Shock on us (but then) on waking up the following morning to find not even one drop of water in the taps! We thought something had happened to the piping system but on checking the tank it was completely empty! Apparently there was something in the piping where the system could be open to go to public pipes. I must say this was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. Not forgetting how frogs seemed to time when I want to go to the bathroom to jump in…the door had some opening but I can almost swear the frogs waited for my turn! I also recall the day, when I was coming from work thoroughly exhausted, and with my colleague having proceeded from R and R break hence I was not feeling quite happy. And guess who meets me at the gate? Some very excited kittens welcoming me! I hate cats! Some cat had hidden and given birth in the compound without our knowledge. I felt like crying. I got the night guard to get rid of them. As I write this, seated outside the house in a new environment of Yei, I can only smile. I am not very good at working with the unknown hence this is an interesting experience for me. For once I had experience of using the kind of planes I dread most…15 seater! I dread using small flights but there I was in Entebbe looking at what looked exactly like an overgrown eagle! To make it worse, the luggage was piled outside with “chose one, leave one”. It doesn’t help that I had carried luggage like I was going to the moon. When we finally boarded I learnt we were to have a stopover in some place in northern Uganda. The advantage of this kind of craft is that it is so noisy that even if the captains wished to tell you “we are out of control” you will barely hear! However I can swear I felt the windows crack…and could see some small cracks after that when I checked the window! I heard the noises and tried checking what was happening and noted some tiny fresh cracks. I started imagining the window cracking completely and consoled myself that it was the outside part of the window. Of course the captain felt it was some old scratches when I alerted him at the stop over (he would not admit it though, right?); but he went ahead to check (and never gave me a report). I look forward to the experience in a different climate; meet new people, new challenges, and more so to the work I will engage with working with women! And yes… I am back…and hoping my luggage will get here today!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

If only we meant 'it'

When you mean what you say-
By Sophie Ngugi, January 2013 In the last few days I have been reflecting on the issue of integrity and authenticity. This was sparked by a minor incidence that ‘should have passed unnoticed’ but to me provided some insights and challenges. In a group where a friend had posted about death of certain former teacher, I watched as people give condolences on the same. It took a while before I could do the same for personal reasons. Eventually I felt the urge to comment on the same, so I posted my condolences to the family and wished them peace but also added a comment that indicated that there was no love lost between me and that teacher (RIP). I mentioned that he is the only teacher from my former primary school who I had bad experience with but “had forgiven him and moved on eventually”. This does not mean I would have hugged him if we had met before he died, forgiveness for me means letting go of the bitterness associated with the act of the person. Somehow I can confidently say that teacher hated my guts and I hated him for that. (Not yet time to start preaching to me about love thy enemy ). When I analyze this as an adult now, it is more of mistreating a child and what that means for the child. I can still recall the incidences but I will not put it to writing. That is neither here nor there, my view of him doesn’t necessary summarize his character nor his views of me. My main point on this experience is the conversation that ensued between me and someone who I don’t know but had read my comment. He sent me message indicating that that was not fair for me to write that. I reflected on this and thought...hmmm may be sometimes sincerity is not enough. So I told him I would take down the comment not because I felt it was wrong but because it may hurt others, while retaining I did not think there was anything wrong with indicating I was not in good terms with someone just because they had died. I did take down the comment ‘for the sake of peace’. However his comment perturbed me “Sophie you are a mentor to many kids, you are a role model to many...” I was perturbed, I actually mentor young girls and boys to be themselves and speak their mind. I got reflecting, was the person more concerned about the truth of the issue or about speaking bluntly while being lukewarm works better? The incidence got me thinking more about what we experience in Kenya each and every day. In a few weeks’ time, Kenya will go into elections. The airwaves are saturated with political activity of all kind, coalitions, mergers etc. with promises of heaven on earth. Most of the players in the current political scene have been in the ‘game’ for more years than majority of voters have been alive! For some of them, their development record (or rather lack of) is so clear to any eye; yet they continue promising ‘manna’ if we “give them a chance”. The sad part of it is that in all these rallies there are 10s of thousands of Kenyans of sane mind clapping and cheering on. In other cases, we, Kenyans of sound mind are abusing each other on social media in support of our candidate. I wonder what would happen if a politician took the platform and declared “I am not very sure what I can do for you, I do not think we will achieve xxx in the five years but I will do my best to ensure at least there is no corruption in the xyz sector/county. This still means the will still be a high level of unemployment and you need to work extremely hard since nothing will come for free but ...” Would she or he even finish that sentence? Is it more ‘swag’ to have people say what will please our ears even when we know it is all lies? I am reminded of lyrics of a song by BabyFace whose chorus goes - “Bring back those simple times of yesterday, when a man was a man and a friend was a friend. Bring back those simple times of yesterday, when you said what you meant, and you meant what you said”. I don’t know if sincerity got depleted over the years, whether yester-years people were more tolerant to truth, more authentic but the message is clear. There is something missing as far as integrity is concerned. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines integrity as consistency in actions, values, principles etc. It goes further to define it as honesty, truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions with the opposite being hypocrisy. The simplest definition of integrity that I have come across is “when you mean what you say, and say what you mean, do what you said you will do, or apologize in advance when you cannot”. It is as simple as that. As usual children are best at meaning what they say, a child will tell you “I hate you” for bouncing them on a birthday because at that particular moment they mean exactly that. Even if it will only last a few seconds, at the moment that they say it, they mean each and every word. They soon forget and forgive you and move on and the next time that you do something nice tells you “you are the greatest auntie in the world”. Adults on the other hand will tell you “it is okay, I really don’t mind” and hold the grudge for years. Very few times do we get to ‘shoot from the hip’ and mean it. We have learnt to measure our words and don’t say what we mean since that is what’s expected of us. Someone once commented that if you invite a Kenyan for an event and they tell you “I am not sure about my availability but I will try my best” then just know they have no intention of appearing! If they say I might be late, just know you will be lucky if they turn up! One critical issue about integrity is that we make people plan their event or life around your word and then you do not keep the word and inconvenience them. It could be as major as a promise of marriage to as simple as a promise to call. I recall the parable of Jesus on the wedding feast. Many guests were invited but did not turn up. If you have ever organized an event around ‘confirmed guests’ and they bounce you and you wonder where to take the food then you understand the frustration. One common one is the ‘sins of mobile phones’. At one time I stood in the streets to give a piece of mind to someone (with my eyes only of course) when I overheard him say “I am almost in Nakuru wait for me” and he was walking in the streets of Nairobi, possibly on the way to the bus stop at best! Nakuru is about 156KM from Nairobi. I imagined the other person making plans around these words! (Mind you there are no flights to Nakuru so at best he would take 2 hours after boarding a vehicle which he had not yet done). What if you are expecting someone in 30 minutes and they let you know they will take another 2 hours? Fantastic you can plan what to do for 2 hours not keep all your plans on hold. Rarely will people tell you where they are “almost there” means what???? I suspect this should mean 10 minutes not 2 hour, hallo! With time people judge our words by our past actions. There are persons even if they say they are sick or late, nobody flinches “that’s just like her/him” we dismiss. Sometimes we do not realize how strong our words are until we are confronted for not keeping them. I think children offer best lessons! No wonder Jesus said we be like little children. My sister had her aha moment in parenting one day. Her daughter had asked for some chalks and requested the mum to buy the white chalks and dad the colored ones. My sister told her “Okay I will bring you tomorrow”. In the hectic day’s work she forgot all about this. On arriving home her daughter who had just started pre-unit class asked her, “mum did you buy?” to which she apologized, she had forgotten. The girl pulled out some pieces of paper “mum I knew you would forget, so I wrote a note which you can put in your handbag so that tomorrow you do not forget” That was a major lesson, she realized that she had not kept her word several times and her young daughter had picked this as habit! There is folklore about a boy who always cried there is a wolf. Villages would run to rescue and find he was joking. With time nobody listened to him and when the wolf eventually came he was eaten as no villager responded to the call. Our words have power, and even to ourselves. How often do we lie to ourselves? Say what we don’t mean? Don’t do what we promised to ourselves hence not honoring ourselves? In addition, often society prescribes some behaviors that keep us from being real to ourselves. According to Wikipedia encyclopedia, “Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions”. The Wikipedia philosophical encyclopaedia further goes to define it as “degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures”. The privileged moments when one can listen to the deeper inner self and decide from that spot regardless of how the rest of the world feels. This is very tough, being yourself in a world that is always trying to make you different person. I hope that as the New Year (2013)progresses, I will honour myself by being authentic and practising integrity a one day at a time, a moment at a time, a step at a time.