Monday, June 30, 2014

The Magic Bean

“First tell us a story then sing for us. When you are done, we will all pray and go to sleep” Hailey clearly gives the sequence of events when I try to send them to slumber land with just a prayer. Heidi nods in agreement with her sister. A prayer is never enough. A short story, a song, prayer, then sleep.

I don’t know why I have to sing on most days at 7.30pm in the evening but I indulge them anyway. When you see Hailey’s face as she watches me sing, you would think she is watching Celine Dion in concert. There is never a dull moment with these children of mine. Not one!

The story is always a selection from Cinderella, Snow White and the seven dwarfs, and Little Red Riding Hood. I really need to expand my fairy tales scope. I tried Rumpelstiltskin but scratched it when I couldn’t remember what happens after: Once upon a time, there was a girl called Rumpelstiltskin who had long golden hair. Her hair was so long that it was used as a ladder… Then I hit a blank. I should read that story again to refresh my memory as soon as I am done with writing this post. The things we do for love. *le sigh!*.

The story I enjoy telling the most though, is the one about the boy who cried wolf. I like this story because I get to drive the importance of honesty into my girls’ heads. You should see me saying with exaggerated emphasis, forefinger pointing up; “…the moral of the story is if you insist on telling lies, no one will believe you when you tell the truth” I think I have repeated this phrase a ‘nauseating’ couple of times but thankfully my girls are still too respectful to use the phrase “Shut up Mum!” - I am not sure how long that will last though.

For the longest time, I have been aware that repeating the above stories could soon earn me the badge ‘Boring Mum’. Then this weekend, Phoebe Buffay, she of the comedy Friends (Yeah, don’t mind me. Carry on into the future with The Big Bang Theory while I hang around the 20th Century for a while longer) handed a fairy tale to me.

It is season 1 of Friends. The one where it all began. Rachel has just left Barry (the groom, an orthodontist) at the altar. She couldn’t marry him because she realized at the last moment, when she was fully dressed in a wedding gown, when the church was full with congregants eager to witness an exchange of nuptials. At that moment, just as she was about to walk towards her future husband’s arms, she realized then that she did not have feelings for Barry. Poor Barry! Great timing?!

So here is Rachel, wondering whether she made a mistake. She left Barry at the altar. Barry was an orthodontist, you know, quite the catch? (Because she was marrying his job?) Now she is at a point where she is second-guessing herself. What if she lives to regret this decision for the rest of her life? Phoebe then steps in. I love Phoebe! She compares Rachel to Jack.  No, not Jack from downstairs. Jack from the Jack and the beanstalk story.



Once upon a time, there was a boy called Jack who lived with her widowed mother. They were very poor. All they had was one cow which they depended on for milk. The cow stopped producing milk and Jack’s mother, not knowing what to do, decided to sell the cow because, you know, hard times. Jack was assigned the task of taking the cow to the market to find a buyer for it. Instead of giving Jack money in exchange for the cow, a butcher offered him five beans which unbeknownst to Jack's mother, were magic beans. Her mother was (understandably) annoyed to get beans in place of her precious cow. Vexed, she threw them out of the window, into the garden where they grew into a huge beanstalk that stretched all the way to the sky. Curious Jack climbs up the beanstalk and discovers a castle whose occupants are a rich Giant and his wife. A beautiful maiden appears from nowhere and informs Jack that everything the Giant has belonged to his father, and was therefore rightfully theirs. Jack then gets into the habit of climbing up the beanstalk to the castle and stealing from the giant when he goes to sleep. He steals gold, a magic hen that lays golden eggs and a magic harp that can sing. His luck however runs out one day when the Giant catches him stealing and starts chasing him down the beanstalk. Jack then yells for his mum to bring an axe, which he uses to cut the beanstalk. The Giant falls with a thud and that was the end of him. Jack and his mum henceforth live richly, happily ever after.

Back to Friends; Rachel wonders if she made a mistake leaving the good life behind to become a waitress in New York. Her friends Phoebe and Monica are trying to encourage her. Just like Jack, she had lost a cow that was not adding value to her life anymore. The Magic bean doesn’t look as valuable as the ‘cow’ was, but it turned things around for Jack and her mother. Rachel’s magic bean is a job as a waitress. A lacklustre job; as lacklustre as a bean is when compared to money. The magic of Rachel’s bean is however manifested in her growth as an independent woman who doesn’t need her father’s credit cards (which she cuts to pieces) or her (orthodontist) husband to survive.

There is always a magic bean for everyone who lets go of something that they believed they couldn’t do without. The magic bean is neither lush nor glamorous. It looks like a pathetic mirage of what we let go of. But that magic bean gets you from where you are, to where you need to be. You have to let go of a cow that doesn't produce milk anymore, in the same way you need to let go of a bad relationship that is hurting you, an addiction that is consuming you; anything that does not add value to your life. Anything that hinders your growth.

To get from a point of misery, poverty, hopelessness, to a point of clarity, hope, and success a magic bean, a very mundane-looking magic bean, could be all you need to hold on to.


I guess you know which story I am telling the girls tonight?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Shanterina.

She is the epitome of African beauty; short hair, dark complexion, white dazzling teeth. She walks with grace. She has a smile permanently plastered on her face. She is beautiful.

Shanterina is a goddess.

She comes to me whenever I need her. I don’t even have to call her, text her, snap my fingers or anything. She just appears. Just senses my need for her, and she is there! Nice, huh?

She does her job well too. With loyalty, commitment and diligence – she possesses the perfect CV, I’m sure. She is smart and funny to boot. Her creativity is unmatched. You can’t help but fall in love with her when you meet her for the first time.

She always has the right words. She knows exactly what I want to say, when I want to say it. She fuels my thoughts.

Shanterina ladies and gentlemen, is the name I choose to call my muse. (And also the fascinating name of a girl in Hailey’s class who I have never met.  But that is a story for another day…)

Day in day out, Shanty seats by my side. I tap on my keyboard as she tells me what to write. She coins the words for me to make me look good. She does this out of selflessness. She is painfully modest. Never takes any credit. Always letting me shine in the limelight while she lurks in the shadows. She has been a great companion.

Until now.

She is quiet today. Awfully quiet. I have tried talking to her, beseeched her to give me something to pen down for you my loyal readers, but she won’t budge.

I am lost on what to do to her. I keep calling her name.“Shanterina?”

Silence

“SHANTERINA?”

Pin-drop silence

“For Chrissake, SHANTERINA, can’t you hear me calling you?"

More silence

She stares at me. Her eyes are blank. She won’t give me nothing. No emotions. No smile. No sneer. No nothing. Absolutely nothing!

Nothing I say seems to work. I even tried to bribe her at some point when desperation had hit a whole new low. “What do you want? Tell me. Anything and I will give it to you. What, you want to bleach….sorry...lighten your skin like Vera perhaps? Are you fed up of your black African skin?” I asked

Silence.

“Is that what you want? Tell me … 50 million is a lot of money, but, but … I can organize a small harambee … have all my friends and readers donate something…you know….”

Silence.

“Can we go to work now please? Please remind me of that funny incident that happened that day in whatsthenameofthatplaceagain? Remember? Go on, tell me about that as I type...”

I stretch out my fingers as I hover my left hand over letters A S D F, and my right hand over J K L ; as we were taught in typing school.

My fingers are ready. I sit upright. My posture is ready.

I am all set. Yet my muse won’t budge

She does not utter a word.

“What do you want from me?” I ask in exasperation

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?!”

Silence.

“TALK TO ME DAMMIT! SAY SOMETHING!”

She looks away as if ashamed of my outburst.

I am going crazy. She is driving me mad!

“Please…” I add softly

“Don’t leave me now?”

She looks at me.  

“Please. I need you” I continue pressing for a reaction. ANY reaction.

“I need you!”

I am begging now. Groveling, really. I am one sentence away from falling on my knees. I even use Pink’s lyrics from the song “Please don’t leave me”, to plead my case; “I always say how I don’t need you, but it’s always gonna come right back to this. Pleeeeease don’t leave me!”

Shanterina has an ice-cold heart people! She is unmoved.

I am beyond desperate now. I go up to her and hold her arm. I pull her face towards mine to force her to look at me. Maybe if she sees my pleading eyes, her heart will soften.

Our eyes meet. She returns my stare. She doesn’t blink. There is no emotion there. Her heart doesn’t soften. She feels nothing

“Please give me something” I whisper still looking her deep in the eyes.

Shanty pulls away to free her arm from my grasp.

She turns her back towards me and starts to walk away. She takes one steady step at a time. She is leaving.

The distance between us grows bigger. She is leaving!

“SHANTERINA!” I call after her.

She stops in her tracks but doesn’t look back.

“SHANTERINA!” I bark even louder. So loud that I do not recognize my own voice.

This is enough to make her turn. She looks straight at me.

I take my time. I walk slowly, leisurely, towards her. One steady step at a time.

I stop short of walking into her frame. Our faces are almost touching. Some of our body parts touch. I am aware that I just invaded her personal space. I know that I should step back a little, give us some room. But I don’t move an inch. I have my face in hers. I can smell her breath. Mint. Her eyes don’t blink. Neither do mine.

My eyes burrow into hers.

I bring up my right hand to cup her chin and force her face to the side so that my mouth is directly above her right ear.

"Shanterina…?” I whisper in her ear.

She says nothing. Of course!

“YOU ARE FIRED!” I hiss into her ear again. The words come out of me with so much force that it makes me shudder.

Without saying a word, she frees herself from my grip. She steps back. Reclaiming her personal space. 

She then turns to walk away like before. I look at her as she walks away.

Then I see it.

There’s a leap in her step. She skips and turns around to look at me.

She smiles! A bright smile. Perfect teeth. She winks at me then turns away to glide into the horizon.

I find myself smiling.

“See you soon” I whisper at her disappearing frame.


See you soon!


Monday, June 16, 2014

I am a writer!

When you quit your job, you take up another task of having to explain to everyone you meet what it is you do now. This is because your job gives a glimpse into the kind of person you are. Yes, you are what you do.

A name doesn’t say much about you, but the minute you say that you are an accountant, a lawyer, a waitress, a househelp, a janitor, you will be quickly classified and it is from that classification that your worth will be measured. Sad, but true.

I have met two people now who, after introducing myself, sought to find out what I do. Make that three, if you count an old lady who was curiously interested in my life. I found that a bit unusual.

One was a hairdresser I happened to go to, to have my hair done. We chatted about my hair for a while – there is so much to be said about dreadlocks. This is the kind of hair you can pretty much choose to forget for a couple of days, and there will be no real damage done to your appearance.

“How old are your dreadlocks?”

“Two years?”  I counted mentally to confirm this answer was accurate. Yes it was.

 “I think I should also put dreadlocks” she said with a smile. Why does everyone say that? Most people keep promising to ‘put’ dreadlocks every time we have a conversation about my hair.

“It seems so much easier to maintain” she justified herself.

I smiled at her image in the mirror.

Silence

“So, where do you work?” she ambushed me.

I say ‘ambushed’ because I did not expect to be asked where I worked. More of what I did. Not where.

She already assumed that I worked somewhere for someone.

“I am a writer” I replied

I was disappointed when she didn't ask what I wrote about. I could have told her that I had already written our conversation in my head and that I would share it with my blog readers this week. Pity she didn’t ask.

I later thought about it and realized that for all the years that I have been writing, I had never referred to myself as a writer. This was my first time.

It felt good.

Another time that I owned up to being a writer was a week ago while on a bid to participate as a Storymoja Festival blogger. The annual Festival will be running this year from September 17th to 21st. I am happy to have made the cut. You can visit the storymoja blog where I will be a contributor to keep up with the events lined up during this year’s festival. Also visit my other blog - http://perfectlywoman.wordpress.com/ to read my writeups on various issues. Feel free to add your voice.

I consider it a great blessing to have found myself in a room full of young creative, free minds. Bloggers who are very, very, very (can’t stress this enough) passionate about writing. There were those who had forsaken lucrative careers, law was the prevalent jiltee, to simply write. Take Olivia who dropped out of a law degree class because she realized that she did not want to be a lawyer after all, for example. She was at pains to explain to her people that law was not the way for her. Her insistence that she wanted to take an English course was met with disdain - What?! And become an English teacher??? You should have seen the passion in her eyes when she spoke about teaching English. It was palpable.

The thing about one’s passion; be it a writer’s, a lawyer’s, a teacher’s or a waitresses’ is that it fills your life with purpose. You stop considering what you do as a job. It becomes who you are. Even if that (ugly) wig and gown that lawyers wear look good on you, you only find fulfilment the day you start enjoying what you do.

I sat next to Magunga who had just shared on his blog that he had successfully completed a law degree course but was not keen in pursuing a career in law. Why doesn’t anybody want to be a lawyer woiye? He wrote about being nervous at the thought of informing his mother that he wanted to be a writer instead. It cannot be easy to ditch a career that has practically dug a huge hole in your sponsor’s pockets. It isn’t easy, but such is life. You gotta live it! You gotta be happy! Happiness comes with a price sometimes.

The passion that Olivia writes with. The expertise with which Magunga pieces his articles. These can never be ignored. They are ingrained so deep within the core of your being that you just have to let it out. When you gotta write, you gotta write! That room was full of men and women who wanted nothing but to be allowed to do what they love doing. Write.

We understand that there are bills to be paid and that writing might not always give you the financial stability that you seek. Even though I was applauded for quitting my job, there were voices of reason in between the cheers. “When the landlord comes for the rent, make sure you call all these people who are cheering you this minute to help you raise the rent” Magunga whispered to me.

Thing is, writing may not pay a dime, but that compelling feeling will not allow a writer not to write. It cannot be silenced with a six figure salary. I guess in a way, the universe knows that it is at a loss when those people who should be writing, choose not to do it.

I wake up every day to tap away at my computer because I am a writer. It is all I am now. I am no longer a writer clothed as a secretary. I have been laid bare. Writing is not my side hustle anymore. It is not something I do when I have nothing else to do. It might take a while to get where I want to be, but the crazy me believes that as long as I keep doing this persistently, consistently, I might not have to go back to my fellow writers for a quick mchango at the end of the month.

So hey, I am a writer.


I am a writer!


P.S: As I write this, news is streaming in about the Mpeketoni Attacks. I condole with the families who have lost their loved ones to this heinous attack. May God help our country.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nothing New Under The Sun

I am clicking away at my phone camera taking numerous photos. There are things that don’t happen every day. This is one such thing. You don’t see this everyday!

“Are you taking a video?” someone asks

“A video. I should take a video!” I think aloud as I switch from camera to camcorder. Why did I not think of that before? I hold my phone tighter, keeping it still between my thumb and forefinger, while using my left hand to steady my right hand. I keep taking the video making sure I position the phone to get the best view while at the same time taking care not to drop it and smash it on the floor. A video is useless on a broken phone.

I am standing on the verandah. Door is slightly open as I move the phone around to capture this moment. “Amazing!” I say inaudibly. I smile. Feeling awfully pleased. A blog post weaving itself in my mind.

A few minutes ago, I had rushed outside to get the laundry from the clothes line. It was a Sunday afternoon. Ominous clouds were gathering in the sky, but I thought nothing of it. It threatened to pour any time soon and so I grabbed the clothes in a quick sweep from where they hang, and dashed into the house to avoid getting soaked in the rain.  I had closed the door behind me not knowing that I'd open it again a few minutes later.

During such times, when it is cold and you are cold and it is raining outside, a warm bed is hard to resist. You are tempted to cover yourself with a heavy blanket as you watch a movie, a comedy or a nice series with a cup of tea or coffee or chocolate held hostage securely between both your hands. Before I could eeny, meeny, miny, moe on which of those temptations to fall for, we hear heavy pounding outside. 

The kids rush to the window to see what is going on.  I join them to find out where the noise was coming from. Two minutes of taking it all in and I made the decision to fetch my phone and open the door a fraction.  There are things that don’t happen every day.

Interesting how two people see the same thing and interpret it differently.
On the one hand, one sees an exciting thing worth filming. On the other hand, someone else sees danger and fear creeps up on them to the point of tears.
The spectacle we are all witnessing while photographing and filming is (cue drums) … Hailstones. Yes, it is raining hailstones!

video


The stones are hitting the roof with a vengeance. Splattering all over the ground and bits and pieces find their way to our veranda. My hands get busy. My phone is busy.

I briefly pause filming to look at the girls now standing on the couch and looking outside the window. Both have quizzical looks on their faces. They look confused!

The hailstones are now filling up the ground. There is more white than green on the grass. They keep falling. They are big. The pounding is loud. It rains hard.

After a while, I go back inside the house, phone in hand. Video clip in phone memory. It is then that Heidi calls me to report that “Hailey analia

And indeed she is crying. Silently. Fearfully. She is scared. She points outside to ask what is going on. The rain is noisy. ‘Things’ are falling from the sky. I then delve into a brief geography lesson on why these ‘things’ are hitting our roof.

Realizing that I am not making headway with the somewhat complex geography lesson, I give up and instead assure her repeatedly that she is in no danger whatsoever. Heidi, while listening to my explanation to Hailey had just one question to ask: Was there any chance that the falling ‘ice’ could find its way into our house and smash the TV set? (They had been watching cartoons) When I assured her that there was no chance of that happening, she climbed down from the couch and went back to watching Nickelodeon, unperturbed by the noise.

The kids had never witnessed this kind of rains before. It took a while for me to convince them that this was not something new. That sometimes instead of good old rainfall, earth is pelted with hailstones.

Interesting how we see things differently through different sets of eyes. The experienced eye sees opportunities where others see scary challenges. I grabbed the opportunity for photos and videos. I was fascinated by this rare occurrence and wanted to hang onto every minute of it for as long as it lasted. Hailey on the other hand, the poor child, saw a threat to her livelihood! This was all new to her and therefore, something was not right.  It wasn’t supposed to rain this way. This was different. And to some set of eyes, different equals scary.

Next time you go through a challenging experience remember that someone else could have gone through it before you. In fact, bet on it. There is after all nothing new under the sun. Others could have managed to overcome the same to come out unscathed. Just because it is new to you doesn’t mean you cannot overcome it as well. Fearless people have faced challenges over and over again to reach a point where they don’t pay attention to fear anymore.

Hailey’s tears subsided eventually. But she kept looking outside the window, taking it all in until the rains stopped. Once the heavens ceased pelting the earth, she looked at me curiously and asked a question that seemed to have occupied her mind for a while:

“So Mum, can it also rain mud?”


Monday, June 2, 2014

To be a child again

It’s pretty simple, if the bus doesn’t find you waiting, it leaves you. We all know this and that is why on this morning, realizing that we were running late, we tried our best to perform miracles. I beseeched the girls to gulp their tea instead of sipping it with pursed lips as their pinky fingers saluted the sky a la the rich housewives of some city or the other. I tried to make them brush their teeth with the speed of lightening. I even coerced them to find whatever was missing from their bags-a misplaced pencil, book, rubber-as I filled their water bottles. The shoe laces, the jackets, handkerchiefs in pockets.

Sometimes, miracles do happen. This wasn’t the morning for them though. All the above made little difference to prevent us from being late. And just as we were struggling to sling school bags over tiny shoulders we heard the bus come to a halt outside our gate.

We make for the door. Bags slung on shoulders. We are out of the door. We are running. Running like mad. Running like Kalenjins out to win a race.  Then as the bus engine revs and the bus starts to move, I yell for it to wait. “WAIT!” Hailey decides to yell with me. Soon we are one mad woman with two kids yelling and running at 6.15am. The neighborhood is barely awake. I bet they all heard us. I bet one Kipruto was busy dreaming of how well his shamba was doing. How his yields were coming up pretty well. Maybe his wife Chelagat was just turning in bed trying to catch last minute morsels of sleep  before she would wake up to prepare dreaming Kipruto some breakfast. Only for both to be jolted out of their sleep with yells of “WAIT! WAIT!”  I think we owe our neighbors an apology.

Lucky for us, the stars aligned prettily that morning because the driver heard us. Then again, who didn’t? He stopped and waited as I opened the gate, held each child’s hand and lead them to the waiting bus. I tried smiling at him apologetically but he wasn’t into showing teeth at that hour of the morning. I gave up. Just as I was about to lift Heidi onto the bus, she lets go of my hand, retreats from my grasp and points to the sky gleefully yelling “MOON! Mum, Moon! Look, moon!”

I am dumbfounded. In all that rush, she took the time to spot the moon? NOW? I tried to ignore her and put her on the bus anyway but she wouldn’t let up until I acknowledged the moon. So I looked up and put on a smile. “Moon!” I marveled with feigned excitement. Only then did she allow me to lift her onto the bus and Hailey followed suit. After keeping the bus waiting for ten seconds, I wouldn’t dare look at the driver again. First we were late, and now we were holding the bus to stare at the moon? We are terrible, terrible people!

But it was a few seconds that did not really matter to the driver; it did not change his schedule. Those ten seconds however meant a lot to Heidi. She took the time to notice something she felt was quite important. She goes to school every day, but you don’t see a full moon in all its glory in the wee hours of every morning. Just for the record, Heidi was onto something. It was a full moon, big, white and bright. A spectacular sight.

While I was thinking that I should put them on the bus as fast as possible she was thinking that the bus had already stopped anyway, so what was the harm in taking a few seconds to look at the moon. I did not think of that but her 3 year old mind did.

I marvel at a child’s mind. Children perceive the world with awe and curiosity. Look the moon is out! There is a flower! The shining stars! An adult mind assumes it already knows too much. It stops being curious. It doesn’t stop to notice the simple things because we believe we already have all the answers. We therefore deny ourselves a chance to learn a great deal in the process. A bunch of know-it-alls is what we are.

We grownups suck the joy out of life. We focus only on challenges, on bigger, difficult things, while ignoring the simple pleasures. We forget that solutions to complicated matters lie in the very simple day to day activities. An apple falling from a tree is something most of us would not give a second glance. How boring is that!?  Yet Newton the genius was paying attention when that apple fell.

Sometimes, we have to be reminded to stay still and notice what is going on around and within us. We pay for yoga and meditation classes because we really don’t know how to stay still anymore. We are always on the move. We have to learn to focus on our breathing, our beating hearts. Important things that we ignore because we have more important things to do?

I don’t think I like being grown up. Not if growing up means not asking questions, not being curious, not noticing the simple stuff that adults pass by all the time. I don’t want to grow up if I don’t get to play. If it means not getting to experience the magic moments handed to us by the universe.

To perceive the world through the eyes of a child means never once asking yourself what people will think about you because that really doesn’t matter. Not being ashamed of saying the words “I don’t know” and therefore learning something new in the process.

Everybody is in a rush nowadays. But I will stop. I will stop being impatient. I will take a pause, take a deep breath. Turn off my cell phone. Look away from my computer. Wait for the light to turn green before crossing the road. I will stop running and instead kick the pebbles on the road. I will calm my overworked mind. Find my inner child, ergo inner peace.


I will be a child again. Because kids will teach you. Then teach you some more. And if you are a good learner, they will change you.