I run among a feisty bunch. The passionate, strong minded, take no nonsense women that surround me. Some family and some friends. Coming from a place that both culturally and religiously exalts the virtues of remaining silent and meek when under duress. Allowing atrocities to go unmentioned. Abuses to go unchallenged. Perpetrators to go unpunished. We are known as the wild ones. The ones that challenge the status quo. The ones who are able to distinguish between traditions and bondage. We are enlightened. They call us feisty as if to insult us. But it only inspires to keep pushing forward. Every defeat fuels us and every victory emboldens us.
I would say that during my upbringing I was exposed to new and what some would consider foreign experiences. My father was very well traveled and my mother worked in an organization whose workers were mostly expatriates. Also living in the an area of the city where embassies favored meant I spent a lot of time with children from almost every corner of the world. We had our very own United Nations compound. Sometimes we would eat in each others kitchens much to the chagrin of my mother who did not appreciate her kids eating in other homes uninvited. This is where I had my very first encounter with mushrooms. The spongy texture and taste was very strange to me. I did not like them much and really only started eating them as an adult. Like many things they are an acquired taste.
One of my friends is having a baby. This past weekend I attended a baby shower where we cooed and awed over everything baby. It got me thinking about how I had never attended one until I came to the States. I am sure that they have them now but as I recall we would only have such an occasion after the baby was born. It was not customary for a new born infant to be exposed to the outside or to strangers. There were those who were superstitious and believed in the curse of the evil eye. It was believed that the infant was too vulnerable to be exposed to strangers who may have picked such a moment of vulnerability to revenge for any wrongs done to them. After the incubation period the women would visit baring all manner of gifts including foods they believe aided in lactation such as fermented porridge made with sorghum and a mash with sweet bananas. In some tribes there were naming ceremonies shortly after. You have seen Lion King I am sure. Something like that but maybe not so quite dramatic. Anyway this one was inspired by that precious new life.
Last year I went all out for Halloween, turning our office space into scene from the Waking Dead with cobwebs, trash bags and debris everywhere. I even went to several parties. It was a hoot. This year has been marred with so much real life tragedy that I just can’t bring myself to indulge. I will however enjoy the treats. Boo!
Muthoni grew up a tiny village hidden in the dense forests of Mount Kenya. She was one of ten children. As a middle child she felt lost and neglected. Muthoni had a keen sense of adventure often easily bored by the things that captured the attention of the other children around her. She would steal away disappearing into the forest for long periods of time only to return to find that no one had noticed her absence. On one of those solo adventures she ventured out so far that she could not find her way back. After going round and round the same area she finally sat down at the bottom of large tree and started think of her family. She was cold, alone and afraid. She wept as she pictured her siblings all huddled around the fire in her grandmother’s hut listening to her stories of old then she cried herself to sleep. Some time later she woke up in a jolt to find herself cradled in her father’s strong arms as he carried through the forest accompanied by men from her village. She hugged him tightly in gratitude and relief for she thought she was lost forever. All the rest of the villagers who gathered in their homestead let out large cries of jubilation upon their arrival. He looked up at her father and apologized for causing so much trouble. ‘I did not think you would know I was missing?’ she said. He shook his head. ‘You foolish little girl how could I not miss one of my jewels? he asked. She was confused. ‘But I go out everyday and no one notices’ she replied. ‘That’s what you think but today you went too far and you brother lost you’ he said. That was when she found out how much her father had liked her sense of adventure and had charged her brother with watching over her every time she went out. Indeed she had been a very foolish little girl.
This past weekend I spent time with some friends reminiscing about growing up in Kenya and the common experiences we shared. It was an afternoon filled with laughter and playful discord. I must say that most of us would not very likely be friends had we not somehow ended up in the same city thousands of miles away from home. We come from very different backgrounds. In spite of this there are very deep threads that bind us and being in a foreign land only strengthens them. When are are together we are in a safe haven were we can be ourselves, a place where we are not the outsiders. Truly we are kindred spirits.
It was a slow day at my new job, so I had one eye on the monitor and the other on my phone. I thought it was a good time as any to see if there were any new prospects. I started swiping left and right but really more left than right. Soon I got the notice I had been hoping for. I had a match and before I could even look him up he sent a message. Thank goodness I thought as I checked out his profile which was summed up in just two lines and some fuzzy photos. It was accompanied by sweet compliment and a request to connect so I decided, why not? After a few messages back and forth we agree to meet for a drink downtown by the pier. I was excited but also a little nervous as I dressed up for the date trying to balance chicness and comfort. After a brief drive I met him at the entrance of restaurant. We stood for a moment sizing each other up. I now understood why he had only posted photos taken from above the waist. His cardigan stretched a little too snugly around his rotund waist. As if he read my mind he remarked in an amused tone that I was a lot skinnier in person. ‘I prefer big girls’ he said as he held the door open. I opened my mouth retort but instead I giggled and stepped inside. Surely one drink couldn’t hurt.
I am concerned. Concerned that I am becoming immune and that my outrage is shrinking daily from all the death and destruction around us. I find myself having to dig deeper each time to feel something. Fear, sympathy or anger. How far am I from feeling nothing at all? And how will I know when I get there?
It is only in recent years I have come to truly appreciate my heritage. Moving to a continent where my identity was lumped into one group based on my outward appearance did not help. I remember scoffing at those who proudly wore their African prints and jewelry wondering why they would want attract attention. I was just weary of the questions often accompanied by the limited views of Africa and its inhabitants. So I stayed under the radar with only an accent to give me away. Then one day I got a real taste of it and I savored it. Surrounded by those who proudly owned their heritage I too started to appreciate it. At first it felt foreign, like an ill-fitted suit needing adjustment. It took some time but now I am on the inside and I see it so clearly. Oh, how rich and flavorful it is. It is a new day.