Archives for June 2016

Clothed in the love of the women who wanted to die

Early this week, Sandra (whose blog you should check out) and I had a little photo session to capture my awkward moments as a model for a beautiful red shift dress. I have to confess that even though I am not very maternal, I wished I was pregnant in this red dress.I could have been such a hot mama. I knooow, right? You can check some of the photos here on my flicker page. You know I sincerely hope this bold move to share my pictures will embolden me to be a little more expressional of my fashion. An artiste’s work is an extension is who s/he. They fear it being criticised because when we make it, it is not about whether it is good or not. We were going through something and we communicated through art. Back to the dress. Yes the dress. The reactions on the photo below- its height, colour warts and all- has been… profound. Let us just thank God my pastor godfather does not have access to my inbox.

Red shift dress with jewellery from Tuinuke Tuendelee women's group PHOTO/Sandra Ruong'o
Red shift dress with jewellery from Tuinuke Tuendelee women’s group PHOTO/Sandra Ruong’o

On this red dress, you can see my very colourful jewellery. These beads are a story of two women who were on the way to the grave and refused to die. Last month I met two women—Lucy and Rosemary— HIV survivors whose story I wrote for one of our magazines. I met them through my friend from campus Chris Sunday. Chris works for, Fondazione L’Albero della Vita, an international organisation that has assisted Mary and the women in her care on how to manage their money, sell their crafts and use whatever little is available in their sorrounding to survive. It looks so easy when I put it like that, right? It wasn’t. Poor and ostracized, their neighbours barred them from even using the public toilet sometimes. That was not what touched me. The stories that usually remain etched in your mind as a journalist are the “off the record” statements.

Rosemary(Left) and Lucy(right) in their workshop in Nairobi's Mathare area.
Rosemary(Left) and Lucy(right) in their workshop in Nairobi’s Mathare area.

By all means, Mary and Lucy had been shortchanged at life. They had given so much and yet gotten so little out of it. Yet here they were, taking in other women to hold their hands and walk with them through greater or lesser problems that they had encountered on their own. In their three bedroom house at the heart of Nairobi’s Mathare area, young women with children came in and they took them in so lovingly you would imagine they have lived there with them forever.

I love TD Jakes, and he said something today that reminded me that we cannot allow circumstances in our lives to silence our thirst to achieve what is big. Within us, there are dreams bigger than us. When we allow ourselves to be silenced, even the voices of those that would have benefitted from us get silenced too.

The women in Rosemary and Lucy's care at work
The women in Rosemary and Lucy’s care at work

Look at Lucy and Mary. They never felt the pressure to respond to what looked like “normal”. In a world that was cruel, they chose “gentle”. In an environment where everybody gave politically correct answers on controversial issues, Lucy and Mary chose to stand by single mothers. As you draw your inspiration from their lives, please pass by Chris Sunday’s wall and let him guide you to where you can buy the beautiful stuff that these women make.

(not) interesting?Please share

I love them older… really!

Hold it! Did I just say that? First of all, can I get a little space to rant. I loved math in high school. In fact, I was one of those girls people came to and ask “Verah can you show me how I can get an A in math too?” I loved it because the simplicity: there is a formulae, apply it on the question, calculate, get an answer. However, I hated it when math was applied in real life like in business where we would be talking “liquidity” and some other jaw-breaking business terms. Then I loved the civics part of History and Government – you know the law making process, those Latin words like Jus sangurus and all that shit that made me look like some Athenian philosophical goddess. I wanted to be a lawyer those days in my teens.

Madam laywer! clears throat...
I could have made a ball-bursting lawyer like Jessica of Suits. Damn Kenya’s education system!

But I hated the history part of History and Government. A question reads “account for the downfall of Lobengula.20marks”. Then I was like, wasn’t he Zimbabwean? How is that going to help me as a Kenyan? The potbellied man, resisted colonialism, white man did not like it, white man beat him. Simple. Then there was that fellow from TZ, Kinjekitile Ngwale?.. damn didn’t they have names that take a ceremony to pronounce? Hallo everybody gather around, we are about to term the name of that resistor from TZ… Ki-Nje-kitile.

But you know, you need the complexity of history and the simplicity of math. The Kenyan budget has been read and I need the math (which I am good at, smiles) but I need to remember previous history(which I loathe, frown) about this annual exercise to put everything in perspective. My mentor Catherine Gicheru has already sent me five angles from where I need to analyse that document. Before I loose you, let me tell you how that brings me to why I love them older. Fashion. Music. Friends. I am wondering whether I should add men to this list because I saw a 43 year old with the attitude of my 13 year old nephew. Of course, this love for old stuff comes with a healthy dose of what is current.

Shift dress
Shift dress with 1970s pumps

 

I cannot begin to tell you about the men and women, some who are twice my age who have held my hand through emotionally draining moments and taught me how to rise over them like a champ. My friend Zipporah Musau tells me “You must learn to rise over petty issues when you are angry, Verah”.

My 1980s lace dress and pumps
My 1980s lace dress and pumps

So whenever I wear the retro fashion- the 1950 pumps, the 1960 shift dress, the 80s pleated skirt- I feel like I am wearing this wisdom. Let me not even get started on the shoes.

My red pumps
My red pumps

 

My friend, ex run way model Damaris Muga,  knows how to buy these shoes for me.  When you have time, check out her blog here.  Journalists who are perpetually in the field like me cannot have smooth skin, so do not criticise the leg above loool.

So do not fear old. Embrace it.

Ain't these shoes retro?
Ain’t these shoes retro?

 

PHOTOS/ Sandra Ruong’o

WARDROBE: Verah Okeyo designs

(not) interesting?Please share

He’s weird, awkward, I am going to marry him…a guide to loving a strong woman

It is noon. I should not be on my blog because it is company time and I give to my employer what belongs to him which is my productivity. Yesterday I was unable to sleep for 90 per cent of the night. That is hardly newsworthy because journalists are neurotic walking insomniac zombies. Otherwise how do you explain those WhatsApp messages to your boss at 1a.m beginning with “Sir we need to have an intimate conversation about how you mutilate my stories from 2,000 words to 800”? So because of this deprivation, which is usual but is always surprising to me all the time, I look and feel like crap.

So I let my mind wander a bit and it takes me to my late father. Damn I loved that man my breath is laboured whenever I think about him. This is that part where I should sniff and blow my nose miserably but I am such an ugly crier I don’t want to add that to the crappy look I have. Charles Okeyo, my his soul rest in eternal peace,was a man with a heart so big it could not fit his rib cage. Fuck death. So yesterday, a man, a good man texted me “Verah, what do you want in relationships? Nothing seems to be good enough for you”. I was about to answer him and tell him a little about my father and his ideals about compassion, altruism and relating to people. Then I figured he, just like many people before him, would not have understood.

I wanted to tell him: “I want many things, and nothing at all when I run my checklist against the consumerist society that we live in”. I wanted to ask him whether he had ever been at that point in life where he asked himself “Why am I alive?” I have been there. Many times. In my line of work, we sometimes arrive at a crime or an accident scene before the police. Ask my colleague Stella Cherono who covered the Huruma tragedy. After the bodies had been moved, press statements issued by the county government, she stayed there to talk to women whose children would live without a father. Then, it dawns on you that you could have easily been that widow whose children were orphaned and there is not much precaution you could have taken to prevent that. You were just lucky to have left your kids at home, kissed them goodbye and come back to hug them again. Others never have that last chance in that pattern.

Stay with me baby, I know it is a long read, but don’t go yet.

Once, in Nakuru where I began my career, I stood beside a gangster whose chest had been sprayed with bullets. Next to him “dear wife” was calling incessantly. Even for this thug, whose life the police and the society had judged and decided was not worth sparing, a woman cared for him was worried sick that he was not home. Maybe they had children who jumped into his arms whenever he came home and called him “dad”. When you have been there, you appreciate every second given to you as a healthy human being and you live for little moments.

_MG_4129
That is me and my colleague Faith Oneya(in a blue dress) and James Ekwam (in a white T-shirt) taking a photo with our “children” from Kibera who we coach on basic journalism

My little moments is a man taking time off work to come go out for lunch with me. I don’t care if it is a dingy joint—although we will have a blog post about hygiene and food borne diseases later— or a five star hotel. These moments are not having a plan, a set of rules to govern how I relate to him. I do not want to guard myself around a man I love. When and if I want to tell him “I love you” I should say it godamned it! I don’t have to worry about “ooo it is too soon, you should say this after two years, and you will look vulnerable and needy”. When I want to see him, there shouldn’t be a ceremony about it because I don’t have to worry about makeup and looking like Naomi Campbell off the runway. My need and ache for him should overwhelm him that he won’t notice that my dreadlocks have not been to John’s Salon for a month.

I am awesome
One time my boss asked me “Verah what do I do to get you to the salon?” Surprised, I put my hand on my head and was like “By the way when did I last go there? Whaaaaat, it’s been over 7 weeks I completely forgot” (PHOTO/SANDRA RUONG’O)

I am a strong woman, and I am not talking about “strong will” or those sentimental bastardy shit people hide behind when they are just being plain nasty. I am talking about I-can-challenge-you-to-a-physical-fight kind of strength. Be that as I may, I am still a woman by the end of the day. I have things I am afraid of that are beyond my control. Like failure. Like losing people I love to disease. I should be able to tell you about that shit too and not feel like you will use that against me at some point. These funny rules of hiding this portion of you, and that portion of you and when you twitch your mouth like that it communicates ABC… That fuckery is a futile full time job I should be paid when I engage in it. So, I want to hear all about your worries, weaknesses, warts and all. I should know, and connect with, him that when his tummy is aching in Timbuktu I would feel it when I am across the Atlantic Ocean. And that is not Nigerian witchcraft oh

I love outdoors. Take me home to your parents, then we can spend the whole weekend there milking disgruntled surprised cows who will be wondering “hey is there something different with these hands and the ones that usually touch our tits?” There are needy children in Mandera, we should go there, put our money into working with a community organisation to help them build a makeshift classroom in that harsh cruel climate. While we are driving to that place we would be singing loudly, perhaps off key to Glee’s version of James Taylor’s  Fire and Rain .These modest choices are not made out of lack but a preference over the norm, a chance in which you can learn about people without the convenient link of technology where messages are edited before being sent.

New friends I made in my last trip to Lewa, Laikipia County
New friends I made in my last trip to Lewa, Laikipia County

What I am describing, is my understanding of what being real is. Sadly, this is what is frowned upon today yet for getting off this natural path of relationship, people are tired of unions after two years. For seeking this kind of connection, people like me have been pilloried with all manner of mean descriptions. She is always weird, her man went to the UK and when he asked her what gift she wanted, she asked for the UK flag instead of an iPhone… that man is shady, he told me we are going for a romantic gateway over the weekend and then he took me to a faraway isolated place with no TV and made me eat seated on a mat on the grass… He is so funny he asked me to switch off my phone and then we spend an hour looking into each other’s eyes.

To get to this point where you take delight in and derive fulfillment from little things especially when they come from a person with whom you have that kind of connection takes time, honesty, selflessness and genuine concern for the other person. It is easy because when you meet those people you will feel it, and it will flow you won’t have to fight for it. I hate that statement “I am fighting for my man/woman”. But this is also hard because it demands that embrace what we are easily compensating for with money and material things: openness, a willingness to be vulnerable and tell the person “hey, I am giving you a loaded gun but I am trusting you not to shoot me”. The journey to get here is laborious and everyone goes through it is just that some learn from it and become stronger.

You needed to have experienced life in a manner that shook you to the core and made you realise just how small you are. You need to have been betrayed, hurt and trampled upon by people you trusted and family that the money they offered did not heal you. After that you realised the best you could ever get from any relationship, be it a marriage or a friendship, is that person in their true honest self. Not the money or the status that they may bring to the table. That is a life lesson you cannot coach someone on. After you have gone through it, and survived enough to take all the scars as lessons, you cannot waste that unconditional love on an entitled vainglorious shallow prick who misinterprets a deep me for a charlatan. So for that reason, some of us wait for our weird, awkward prince(ss) charming because… there is nowhere else we would rather be.

Now y’all can email all those concerns and thoughts about this to talktoverah@gmail.com or WhatsApp me +254732324609. Can I go back to banging copy? Burrofcourse

(not) interesting?Please share

Copyright © 2017 · Made by Watu