As new new swimmers,
we splashed the water so hard,
slapped it, really, like its existence offended us.
The older girls took whole lengths without breathing;
they parted the water,
rather than trying to break it.
Swahili the Kenyan national language is taught in primary school as part of the school curriculum. As part of the coursework we learned Methali which are wise sayings that have been passed down generations. Recently I have found a renewed interest in these sayings and their meanings. This is the first in an art series inspired by Swahili sayings.
Macho hayana pazia____Swahili sayings
Eyes have no curtains or screens____________________________________________Translation
Loosely interpreted it means that the eyes see all that is in their view. It can also be said to mean that you cannot unsee what you have already seen.
‘You are so stiff!’ my younger sister said during one of our heart to heart conversations. I was genuinely surprised for even though I was not as whimsical and fancy free as her I did not see myself that way. So that summer I threw caution to the wind, lowered my inhibitions and had the best time I can remember.
For a creative person staring at a blank page, canvas or neatly folded fabric is one of the most scary things. It is as though success is solely determined by that first mark. And even though experience has debunked this fear again and again it still persists. I have long used this theory to explain away canvases that collect dust in corners and piles of craft items that still remain in the origin packaging. Yet when I look at my life and see how many times I have started over, there seems to be a disconnect. My most recent milestone involved moving to a new city and a new job. Two things that I am very satisfied with. As I reflect on this I am less anxious about starting over which is great progress for this self-proclaimed creature of comfort. After all, based on the previous results, the odds are in my favor.
See, I can kinda recall a lil’ ways back
Small, tryin’ to ball, always been black
And my hair, I tried it all I even went flat
Had a lumpy curly top and all that crap, now
Just tryin’ to be appreciated
Nappy headed brothers never had no ladies
And I hit the barber shop real quick
Had ’em give me lil’ twist and it drove ’em crazy (crazy)
Then I couldn’t get no job
‘Cause corporate wouldn’t hire no dreadlocks
Then I thought about my dogs from the block
Kinda understand why they chose to steal and rob
Was it the hair that got me this far
All these girls these cribs these cars?
I hate to say it but it seem so flawed
‘Cause success didn’t come till I cut it all off
Few things command your attention like the smell of chapati as it wafts through the air. It is such a powerful one it lures gallivanting children home before the street lights come on. It compels wayward husbands to forgo another beer at the local. It causes meddling neighbors to suddenly run out of sugar. And the watchman at the gate remembers a very urgent message that he forgot to pass on.
Right after primary school I was sent off to a catholic boarding school in a semi-rural part of town. It promised a safe learning environment and ensured academic performance that would guarantee me a place in a good Kenyan university. To get there we drove through dusty streets filled with throngs of people going about their daily living. The thought of being away from home for so long both frightened and excited me. I found a little solace as I recalled the fun stories my cousins had told me about their time in boarding school. I took in a deep breath when we finally stopped at an imposing green metal gate guarded by a watchman. Behind it lay a serene, pristine and sterile compound that seemed unreal; a sharp contrast to the chaos that lay around it. A sense of foreboding came over me as the gate closed behind us in a loud bang. It is in the place that I would question if truly cleanliness lay next to godliness.
I have never been a fan of soil. What does that even mean? Well, let me explain. I mostly associated soil with dirt. But soil is dirt you may say. Well not really. What the British call soil, Americans call dirt. What I mean is that I thought of soil as something dirty. From an early age I did appreciate it. Even though I enjoyed the lush, beautiful garden my father planted I never felt inclined to help cultivate it. In primary school they gave us a holiday project to build a mud hut from scratch. I waited until the every last weekend to get it done and hated every moment of it. In what I believe was an act of vengeance it fell apart in the car on the way to school that first morning back. Later in secondary school I quickly picked Home-science over Agriculture to the chagrin of my teacher who felt I was better suited for outdoor activities. I endured her hostile treatment rather than spend my afternoons in the shambas toiling under the hot Kenyan sun. Some many years later I spend late afternoons tending to my little garden, even worrying about how my plants will survive while I am away on vacation. And yes, I do it all while wearing my gardening gloves.