Archives for January 2016

Is there something wrong with Bi Mswafari’s counsel?

As we grow up, we have these ideals about life. We swear “I would never do that”. Well, life, and God or whatever super power you believe in, has a sense of humour that will make you eat your words. We usually have everything planned out including how we will handle disappointments in relationships, marriages and all that. I have learnt in my two and half decades of living that it is good to be flexible and fluid.

I put up a post on my Facebook page about the pressure that Bi Mswafari puts on both genders. The response, as expected, was amazing. The commenters on my post, mostly men, shied away from the topic at hand and resorted to personal attacks. Some thought my having dreadlocks was a sign of rebellion. One commenter said that women who disagree with Bi Mswafari are the ones “who are used and dumped thoroughly”. You know the saddest thing about that statement is that the commenter is going to be, or already is, someone’s father or husband.

Bi Mswafari. PHOTO/Internet

Before we go on, let me introduce my readers from the diaspora to Bi Mswafari. Bi (that is a very respectful Swahili term for Miss or Ma’am) Mswafari graces our screens over the weekends and offers sound pieces of advice on being proper wives to our husbands. Occasionally, she will mention in passing what it means to be a proper husband. You can watch some of her teachings here.

I want to let you in my beliefs on family a little bit…
My mother –may her soul rest in peace—was a nurse and a business woman. She was a woman way ahead of her time. My dad was a tall kind and gentle class three drop out, whose first job was being a watchman in the flower farms where we grew up. In her very old truck, mama left her clinics every evening to come see to it that she was the one to serve my daddy his meals. She was the type of woman who removed her husband’s shoes whenever he came home and asked him to tell her about what interesting thing happened in the farm that day. Originally from Tanzania, it was naturally for her to respond to my father’s call with “Naam Mume wangu” (Yes, my husband). I cannot remember a single day our very large family had tea with bread. It was always mama’s pancakes, donuts, boiled cassavas or some homemade meals. My mother also sew all of our clothes, her curtains, bedding and mats. Every end of the month, I would see her and daddy sit on the table, calculating how they would divide the responsibilities at hand. The two would ask us “Verah what is your fee this term? Your dad will shop for you and your sister, I will pay the fee. Allan, I will shop for you and daddy will pay your fees”. Yes, that is how I, and my late sister, was brought up to treat men and run a home.

Yet Rosemary Akinyi Okeyo, just as the women she brought up, suffered no fools. She did not tolerate being stepped on just because she was a woman. Anybody that dared was rightfully, and effectively, put in his/her place.
With that background, I will tell you why I have a problem with Bi Mswafari’s teaching. She does not lay the responsibility on either of the genders  for the wrong things they do to their families.

Unfair to women…
I remember one day, Bi Mswafari told us that when little girls dress provocatively in the house, they tempt the man in that house to rape. And I wondered, don’t men have some  restraint for themselves? Can’t they have this sort of inner dialogue: “this is a challenge that I need to work through, and decide what will be good for me and those around me?” How does raping an improperly dressed daughter, or beating a loud mouthed wife, or leaving a fat woman who has borne you children to move to a younger one going to solve the problem? She allows men to get away with so much evil because she reinforces the silly cowardly excuses those men hide behind. In this day and age, you cannot tell me that my husband will gamble away all the money we have toiled for to educate our children and then when he comes home I “Lainisha sauti yangu nyororo ili nitoe nyoka pangoni” (make my voice tender that it can call the snake out of the hole). My love, you will join the snake in that hole.

She makes women look like servants to the men they married. It is not her fault she is being abused and neglected. Haven’t we seen men who are married to Mother Teresa with bodies looking like Halle Berry and still go out to look for stinking disorderly losers who only care about how much he has made for the day and wouldn’t give a damn whether he dropped dead? Did you know studies have shown that some people just because they want to? Read this book by clinical psychologist Janis Spring. There are people who are happy at home, their wives are amazing, they just want to be assholes. Then when they are caught, being the cowards that they are, they hide behind blame games. Then the women in their lives always have to walk on eggshells, trying so hard to be the perfect human being whose mistakes can cause her to be abandoned, ridiculed, infected with some weird disease or even be killed. I am not an expert on relationships as I have failed in many myself, but I suppose the success of any marriage will require a loyalty and some sort of understanding of what the reality is.

As your wife, I work to supplement your income. The job I have may be so draining. When I come home, I have to attend to the children, make sure you are fed and your clothes are ready for tomorrow. Then maybe I am the type who worries that your mother is diabetic and cannot miss her treatments, so I have to make those phone calls and visits… where do I, pray do tell, get the extra strength to dress sexy, pole dance and sing Kumbayah for you? It therefore becomes such an unfair treatment that a man stepped out because “my wife had not time for me”
Unfair to men…
The partiachy that Bi Mswafari propagates is going to be the the downfall of men in Kenya. In fact, I feel so sorry for them when I see them nodding in agreement with her and giggling like green geckos. There is nothing wrong with a man being the head of the house. God designed it that way. However, there is everything wrong when this position is brutally rammed down our throats, demanding that a man becomes Super man when the society does not even have kryptonite. Why should a man just be an ATM machine? He cannot cry. He cannot say he is tired. He cannot express his hurts and pains.

Now there is a breed of women her in Kenya who will never work. She knows women make half of this country’s population and she sees nothing wrong with seating her ass down, to be fed, clothed, dined and wined. So the man will break her back to take care of her outragous needs and when he is not able to give to her, she will call him a dog. This woman is nice, only when there is money. For money, she will go to outrageous lengths. She will get pregnant for unavailable married or committed men and then run to the courts seeking child support. So what happens to the hustler male? You tell me. I have written those stories, where a man wakes up one day and he cannot take the pressure any more and kills all his family members. I got two brothers and two nephews who I don’t want to see go through this you-are-a-man bullshit.

Bi Mswafari has to teach women that the world has changed. Resources are scarce and they cannot dedicate their energies to reminding a grown ass man that he is super man so that they have their needs met. Men cannot also work their ass all day to take care of a grown woman with a degree sometimes. That is such an unhealthy balance. God did not create these roles so that a man abuses the woman or a woman misuses the man. Let us just see each other as a human being. This “as a wo(man)” is the cause of all these marriages breaking down all the time.


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Difficult sources of information every young journalist must learn to handle

One day my colleague John Ngirachu told me “If you want to do well in this career, you must learn how to handle big egos”. One of the other requirements of this job is listening to your sources of information. You listen to what is (or not) being said in words and body language. In the process of listening you will meet very difficult characters. There are two reasons why people are difficult sources of information several reasons: one, they are afraid of journalists or two, they do not know how the media works. Once you know the reason behind their actions, you can build a long term relationship and get your stories every day.

  1. Mr/Ms know-it-all who thinks journalists are bimbos

You must not fail to add to that article that… I don’t think you can understand what I am saying it is too complicated for a person outside the engineering circles… How are you going to write about fashion and you do not know who Karen Millen is…? How can you ask such a basic question, didn’t you do your research? I don’t think that is the article you should be working on, why don’t you write about…?

Those are some of the questions I have encountered in my three years in the newsroom. It is easy to assume that Mr/Miss Know-It-All may just a proud prick with an inflated ego, but maybe s/he had a past interview with a journalist and got disappointed. Maybe that journalists watered down the interesting bits of a subject about to such basic pedestrian knowledge that Mr/Miss know-it-all was so embarrassed to be associated with such common knowledge that everybody has on the tips of their fingers.

Me in 2014, in Machakos listening to a researcher and a Public Relations Officer explain their concerns about a study to me

The worst move here would be to engage in ego-competition. Do not, and I repeat do not blow your own trumpet about your own qualifications to assure Mr/Miss Know-It-All that “you got this”. I was tempted to tell another upcoming fashion designer that I have been a tailor way before she joined Facebook and I could tell her not only who Karen Millen is but who manufactures her fabrics. Instead, make your source know that you value the knowledge they bring to the table (even when it does not exist). I told her “You are right. These things about fashion are not for every Tom, Dick and Harry. I have googled since yesterday night in preparation for this interview and I was hoping I could learn a thing or two about the subject from a household name in the industry like you. I hope I can ask for any clarification on an issue I don’t understand?” Believe me when I say, she will take it upon herself to educate you. In future Mr/Miss Know-it-All will even take it upon herself to let you know of an interesting bit if info in her circles that she thinks you may write about.

2. The skeptical send-me-the-article-before-you-go-to-press kind.

Researchers and public relations officers are especially fond of this: asking you to send the article after you finish writing so that “they can ensure you have all the facts right”. It is not only against editorial policies of many media houses, it makes you wonder whether the source knows you will deliberately not get the facts right. I understand them. Scientists, scholars and researchers have invested 10 or more years to be who they are. Dr A, Prof B are not just titles. In the quest for “hooking the reader” and simplicity to communicate jargon and hard scientific data to the common reader, journalists have communicated something totally different from what the scientist meant. Let me give you an example. A Proffesor has been researching about a drug that may cure AIDS for 15 years. He is still awaiting clinical trials of the drug and approvals and all that. Then a journalist begins his story this way “A Kenya professor has found a cure for AIDS”. Just that one word and that professor has lost all the respect in his circles and, maybe, funding and that would be the end of his career. So what do you do with Skeptical sources? Explain why you cannot send them the article. Offer to email back what he said only. Tell them that you have a lot to lose too should you report on the wring thing: you could get fired, sued and most importantly, you will lose your credibility.



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Medic of the month,Dr Juliana Otieno: I don’t tolerate excuses on health

Last year, my colleagues Eunice Kilonzo, Jacqueline Kubania and I set on out on a journey to audit public healthcare in Kenya especially after devolution. The stories, like a doctor so busy she couldn’t have a minute for a meal and the neglect of mentally ill, broke our hearts. However, in the midst of the dread and gloom, we met medics whose style of management was as much a story as the facilities they were heading. In Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral Hospital in Kisumu (famously known as Russia), I met Juliana Otieno, a pediatrician and the medical superintendent of the facility. On a motorbike to see her, I thought about the studies that states that hospitals are better when run by medical doctors. That, to me, was a conflicting piece of information because I had just left other hospitals not so far away from Russia run by medical doctors and the deplorable conditions that they were in were appalling.

Under her care, Russia has improved tremendously especially on matters of hygiene. During my two-day rounds at the facility, I learnt that Dr Juliana—yeah that’s how we call her in the newsroom— had not been spared of the hiccups that came with devolution. Be that as it may, the pediatrician had learnt about the value of “beneficial friendships and contacts”: some of the successful projects in Russian are funded by people she had met in her postgraduate studies or along her career.

Dr Juliana Otieno, medical superintendent at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral Hospital in Kisumu during the interview on May, 24 2015 in her office

Russia’s state of the art Ksh28million (about 274,000 USD) Intensive Care Unit was partly funded by the government and technology company General Electric. The Renal Unit was funded by the Taiwanese and the Kenyan government. The renal unit also has water treatment system from the Kenya Commercial Bank. My favourites were the new maternity, new born unit and Obama Children’s clinic. As a deputy medical superintendent in this very hospital in 2004, Juliana had met the Norwegian queen who visited the facility on matters related to HIV. Juliana, and her colleagues, had sought the royalty’ assistance to construct the maternity and the newborn unit whose value is estimated to be Sh75million. Being a pediatrician, it’s understandable that the Obama Children’s ward in Russia is semi-autonomous well run clinic where children get free treatment with the comfort for both mother and child guaranteed. The Obama clinic was partly built by Americans, the Walter Reed Project. Of the Walter Reed folks, she told me: “They had stayed here for so long researching about malaria and when they were just about to leave we asked them what they would leave in Kenya and they agreed to help with the Obama Children’s hospital”. Obama runs with great assistance from Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

Entrance to the pediatric children in Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral facility in Kisumu

Before meeting her, I had been told that Dr Juliana does not “suffer fools” especially when the fool is a journalist. So I called her. I informed her that I would like to talk to her. I also told her that I was not coming for the interview tabula rasa as I had gathered information about the inadequacies of the  hospitals that I wanted her to give me a few answers for. To my surprise, and in a matter-of-fact attitude she told me: “I did not expect you to find a palace, it is a hospital but whatever challenges that are there are being worked on, a lot has changed and I have absolutely nothing to hide. Come to my office tomorrow at 10.”

To the office I went. Juliana looked into my eyes and told me I had 45 minutes. She said as she asked the secretary to make me tea: “Here, time is of essence, it always and literally is a matter of life and death, Verah”. Her gaze was imploring yet very attentive, direct yet very inquisitive that I must admit it intimidated me. Her statements were straight and curt. Earlier during my information gathering period, I got a mixture of feelings about her from workers in Russia. Most felt she was too strict, never listening to opinions that differed from hers but peculiarly enough they did not want her replaced. “She gets the job done,” one had told me.

In our conversation, I got the feeling that she is a guarded woman but also very honest in a way that  allows you to connect with her, at least for purposes of a genuine conversation. I understood that deep contrast by the bits and pieces of her life that she dropped in between the chat. A first born of eight, Juliana learnt about being responsible for a large number of people at an early age as she grew up in Muhoroni. “There was milking before school, fetching water and cooking and of course, being asked where you were as an elder sister when your junior siblings were making mistakes,” she said. When she passed her national primary examinations, her father could not raise the Sh4,000 (That is hundreds of thousands right now) needed for her to join Limuru Girls. The community gathered, fundraised and she went to school. “That is why I grew up with the resolution that, for matters such as education and health, I will give back to the community and to a genuine case,” she said.  She went on to take her bachelors degree in medicine at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 1979, graduating a year later because of the 1982 coup attempt. She took her postgraduate studies at UoN in pediatric medicine. Apart from working in the civil service, Juliana has taken part in research in Europe, America and various countries in Africa.

a mother of three biological children “and so many others that are just mine but I never gave birth to”, she says she raised her children the very same way she was raised and the way she relates to her colleagues. “I just have to let you know I am not the enemy but I do not expect laxity even in that love,” she said.

Her tips for being the professional of her cadre are straight forward. “Do not cheat me. If you feel that tea will take ten minutes to make, say so. Do not make me come asking for it fifteen minutes later.”

“I tell every healthcare worker to do the best they can with what is available regardless of the circumstances. I know there is pressure, and we are understaffed but do not tell me you yelled at a patient because you were under pressure.”

She said she did not understand the job-hopping of younger people who are always  “claiming to be too busy they cannot even mentor one person”.   She said: “Stay at a point and learn. Oh I know my job and my work place intimately. I interned here, have climbed up the ladders in this very hospital so whenever I am told there is mischief, I do not need an investigator because I know this hospital from corner to corner and I will leave my office, walk to this place and unearth those hidden drugs or whatever is missing”

me drinking water
Interviewing Juliana was so tough I drank a whole bottle of water when I was done…the struggle is real ehehehe

Juliana says she enjoys Benga music, walking barefoot in her farm in Seme and farming.


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