Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My endangered Christmas

My favorite Christmas carol is ‘Little drummer boy’; “Come they told me Pa rum pum pum pum…” But if I am not at my rural home for Christmas, then it is as good as a wasted Christmas. To me Christmas is not only about the birth of Jesus, but also about my mum, my dad, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews plus both my children. It is about going away from the hustle and bustle of the city, far, far away to a tiny village in Eldoret. A Leafy home surrounded by so many trees (thanks to my dad’s love for trees) with vast land of maize plantations and Eucalyptus trees donning every homestead. There are also the insufferable untarmacked roads, thanks to Hon. Peris Chepchumba Simam MP, Eldoret South Constituency and her predecessors! Yeah, she of the "I had a mysterious dream Mr. Speaker!" fame.

I have celebrated Christmas in Nairobi before and I regretted it! First of all, for all the plans you make for the day, there is most probably a lack of quorum! Many people, understandably, choose to stay as far away from the city as possible. Honestly, Nairobi and Christmas do not mix. I’d rather be in my rural village enjoying the fresh air, the cool breeze, the chirping birds, the green plantation, the bad roads and the pitch darkness -O wait! We have electricity now. Bummer!

My favorite Christmas memories are of when I was a young girl still in school. Then, if we did not travel to Tanzania to spend the school holidays with our dad who was away working most of my childhood, we were in our rural home with my mother. At the time, electricity was still a rumor, and nights were pitch dark, broken only by paraffin lamps. The stars and the moon shone like I had never seen before. Christmas day coincided with the appearance of the full moon and it was so bright that it lit the night almost as brightly as the sun during the day. Those were beautiful nights!

We lit the traditional fire, with firewood of course, and sometimes with dry maize cobs courtesy of the harvested maize. It was smoky as hell. My sisters and I would sit around the fire and sing till midnight on the eve of Christmas, and then we would go to sleep only to wake up a few hours later to cook. Now this was the highlight of Christmas - the cooking!

Christmas was about the dew in the grass early in the morning, the cows mooing when they were being taken to the watering well , the chirping birds, the breathtaking beauty of nature, and the beautiful blend of our singing voices (and make no mistake, the Moipei…err..Murrey sisters can sing!) Oh, sweet sweet memories!

I cherish this season because to me, it is all and only about family; A party of ten – eight kids and their parents.

It is about a much traveled father who is a strict disciplinarian and a fountain of knowledge-An intelligent man to boot. A man who rarely smiles but when he does has a wonderful smile that is a contrast to his stern demeanor. He has my grandmother’s smile which is characterized by a slight slant of the mouth. My big sister has the same smile, complete with a dimple; beautiful. Back to my dad; he is a man who is always ready to protect his girls from bad…I am tempted to say men, but I will just say, bad relationships. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, innit?

Christmas is about a mother who is both soft and strong. A believer in family values and a woman who hates laziness – yet I am not sure if ‘hate’ is a strong enough word! Just to explain how strongly she cannot stand laziness, all our childhood we never got to sleep past 6am when we were home for the holidays. My mother would not allow it! I remember her asking the herder to take a few days off so that we could learn how to milk cows! Being 'city-dwellers' we vehemently lamented to this. We even tried to explain to her that it was a lesson in futility since she would be lucky if we ever got married to Kalenjin men, if at all! (Ahem!) Though her project ‘Teach-the-girls-how-to-milk’ backfired, her point was made; our education meant zilch to her if we were not in touch with where we come from. We spoke Swahili and English most of the time; she threw all that in our face by making sure we learnt Kalenjin and adamantly refused to speak to us in any other language. I would hate it now if I grew up not knowing my mother tongue and so I love her for that and for so many other values she instilled in me.

Christmas is about Jack – named after my late grandfather, a first born brother so intelligent and so blunt. He says it as it is. It is about Gregory- very smart, very generous and very kind; the kindest man I know, and that is no exaggeration. It’s about Innocent, the last among the men who is a jack of all trades. He is the ‘go to’ guy. When you don’t know where to get what, he knows a guy who does, or a guy who knows a guy. He has the connections.

Christmas is about my four lovely sisters too;

Iolanthe; who is painfully neat, organized and focused. She is flawless (I kid you not!), has a golden heart and takes her responsibility as the first girl with so much gusto-the perfect example of a sister to look up to. Imelda is my witty friend with a marvelous sense of humor. My daughter Hailey calls her mum – she doubles up as her other mother and her friend too! Imelda is a friend to her three children, something most of us mothers can’t hack.

Christmas is about Valerie; a go-getter and an adventurous lady who will not stop till the job is done. Her middle name is ‘resilience’. It’s about Vanessa; my sweet kid sister who we like to call ‘Towa’ – Last born. Vanessa is a young girl with the mind of a grown woman. Her maturity baffles me sometimes! I have turned to her several times during house girl crises for babysitting services. Such a doll!

That I should be so lucky, right? You therefore must understand that Christmas is incomplete if one of the above people who I love so deeply is missing due to our now busy schedules as grown ups. Moreover, modernization is creeping into our rural home and changing my perfect Christmas set up! There is electricity now - good bye dark, star-lit beautiful nights. Tap water and gas cookers are not a preserve of urban homes anymore. As Heidi crawls in the green grass, uninhibited by limited space and furniture (It sucks raising a child in these confined square rooms of Nairobi apartments, doesn’t it?), and Hailey runs around not worried about being hit by a vehicle, all I wish for is for them to see the stars, the moon, the morning dew and the three-stoned fire complete with lots of smoke! What say ye Santa, I have been good…

Merry Christmas good people! Mjibambe!

Friday, December 2, 2011

If you leave your abusive man...

This blog post was conceived in rather unexpected circumstances. There I was, poking around at my ‘friends’ profiles on facebook. ‘Friends’ from high school, family ‘friends’, ‘friends’ from work and other ‘friends’ who’s paths have crossed mine strictly through the social network but I have come to hold dear nonetheless. There are even some who I don’t really know – call them stranger ‘friends’ if you likeinsert thumbs up symbol here?

It was evening, the kids were asleep, and there was nothing good on TV (is there anymore?). I was too tired to sleep. I had time and the internet on my hands.

I stumbled on a link posted by one of my ‘friends’ (God bless ‘friendship’ for the sharing of information) about a woman who had suffered physical and emotional abuse from her husband of many years. She had three children with him. I read her story, and voila! today’s post was conceived. There and then, on my sitting room couch, it happened! (These things happen in the weirdest of places; once in a matatu) As is common with conception, the minutes immediately after were kinda confusing; I wondered how to put it into perspective, and how it will be received by…well, you! Confusion galore; it happens even when this is what you have been yearning for after a dry spell of having nothing (yeah, I am still talking about the elusive blog post). I had had nothing to write about for weeks and all I wanted was for this ‘baby’ to happen.

So, I read the woman’s story; how she had made a good career for herself and how she helped other women address their relationship problems, yet she did not have the voice to stand up against her abusive husband. I read the comments posted on the story and realized that women give each other outrageous (for lack of a better word) advice!

There is a trait about me that I don’t like so much. Two actually…..or several, but who’s counting - let he without sin aye? Trait numero uno is I get agitated when I see a woman being abused. Do I think that the entire world lies on my shoulders? No. Trait numero dos, when it comes to relationships I give what you’d call ‘bad advice’. Advise that most women would rather not swallow. Sample this, instead of saying things like;

“Vumilia tu, sasa utafanya?” (Just persevere, what else can you do?) – Instead of taking this very defeatist approach, I would suggest letting him know that you are in fact not a punching bag (Let him have a good look at you if he still doesn’t see the difference). Put it to him categorically that you would like to be treated like a human being. That you will not condone his punches, cheating or him talking to you like you are some creature without any feelings. That is unacceptable to you!

“Just keep loving him, he will come to love you back someday” I think not! If love did not bring you together in the first place, he will stay with you only until love takes him to another woman.

“Give him sex, and good food. He will never look at another woman.” He will have his cake and eat it! You will feel used.

“If you leave, another woman will take your place in a few days!” – This is my favorite. REALLY? Help me understand good people, should you put up with a man who abuses you, cheats on you, gives you nothing but grief only so that another woman will not have him? How noble of you to spare other women the same kind of treatment!

Your ‘expert’ friends, family and strangers alike will never lack advice to give when you are being abused. If you leave him, who will take care of you? - Tell them ‘Uko fiti’; If you leave him, you will be considered a failure - He failed you, not the other way round; If you leave him, the children will live without their father - Correction, they will live without an abusive father. An abusive man is not just a danger to you, but a danger to your children too.

Think of how good it feels to have reciprocated, unconditional love. Just like when children are young, we love them so much and they love us back unconditionally. We are even tempted to believe that we own them; ‘our’ children they truly are. Our pride, our joy, our reason for living… You raise them and they grow up to become young adults. Then you ask them to eat their vegetables and they won’t - they don’t like vegetables anymore. They don’t want their hair in ponytails either; they would rather comb it back. Small decisions here and there that make you realize that you actually do not own them. A human being can never own another, not when one has their own mind and personality. Once she or he is independent, they choose, they decide, they do. You can only influence, advice and (grudgingly) leave it up to them. They will love you with all they have, all they are, but they can never be yours to own.

What folly then to expect to own a man and make him want what you want? You can love him with everything you have, you may give up everything for him, but you can never make him want the same things you do. When HE decides to reciprocate the love, you stay with him - That is a healthy relationship. When HE won’t love you back but you try to force it anyway, in the name of ‘kuvumilia’ that is when you suffer – what we call an unhealthy relationship.

If you are suffering silently through emotional and physical abuse, he is doing so only because you are letting him - That is the bitter truth. So what if people will talk about you. So what if society will shun you. If you leave your abusive man, you will reclaim your life and build a healthy environment for your children to grow up in. You will get your dignity back and stop living in fear; you get a chance at being happy again. If you leave your abusive man, you avoid health risks like contacting STDs and HIV. You run away from a potentially fatal situation {cf. Moses Dola Otieno Vs. Sarah Wambui Kabiru (RIP)}.

If you leave your abusive man, you will be ok.

You are only a failure if you allow yourself to suffer in silence, if you live your life by someone else’s script, and if your happiness lies squarely on another human being. So pick yourself up, stop listening to bad advice and pick yourself up!

Circumcision of women is headed towards the exit door (thankfully!); wife inheritance is dwindling away to the oblivion. Women own property now, they even inherit from their fathers. So excuse me if I am sick and tired of feeling like this every time I see and read about women being abused. Haven’t we fought enough wars? Haven’t we made any strides at all? Have we come this far for nothing? Domestic violence in this day and age should be unheard of.

Of all the choices that women make today- we choose success, good careers, the best fashion designs, the best homes, and we even choose great flashy weddings - Why oh, why do we not choose to be happy?