Archives for November 2016

I am mad… and anyone who isn’t is mad

You know what else I love about my Luo tribe—apart from Obama and Lupita Nyong’o—? The accent! Yes Omera! Let me tell you how the fun in that accent got me kicked out of a physics class. The thought of it alone just makes me laugh this late in my bedroom, I look crazy. Oh I have an extensive laughter. I think what I lack for in body size I make up for with the size of my forehead and laughter. Check out my maxi dress… and the forehead…and of course the laughter! By the way, I wear my own designs 95 per cent of the time. You can see/buy/ask to be tailored  any clothe I wear others on my Instagram here. You can also check out my Facebook page here

Let us laugh. Photo/Sandra Ruong'o
Let us laugh. Photo/Sandra Ruong’o

In 2004, the travails of life plucked me from my dream school to a modest day school in Nyanza in Rongo called Rongo Junior for a term. I was in form two. During the physics lesson, I heard the teacher say “the electrons are ‘sealded’”. I thought, “oh well, Physics is a technical subject so let me write this word down and hear about what it means as the lesson progresses. Spell I did. S.E.A.L.D.E.D. When I lifted my head from the book, I saw what the teacher had written “The electrons are SHIELDED” on the chalkboard! Having been brought up among the Kikuyu, this was all new to me so I burst out laughing. Thunderously! The teacher and my classmates were surprised. Remember this is a near rural school with those colonial tendencies where students stand up when they speak to the teacher, curtsy and everything. So here I was, laughing and wailing with tears on my eyes in the lesson of a graduate teacher—yes that meant a lot here— and he was not amused. He asked me whether I could share the joke, and amid sobs I explained the joke. I stopped laughing and sped out when I saw him advancing with a stick. Needless to say I was banned from attending the Physics class the whole term.

Maybe this is how we walked out of the Physics class. Photo/Sandra Ruong'o
Maybe this is how we walked out of the Physics class. Photo/Sandra Ruong’o

A day before that I had been called to the assembly to read out the names of those due for punishment only to hear that my desk mate was to be among them. When I read the crime for which he was to be punished, I exploded in the assembly ground again. The whole school watched my whole body spasm… and the tears as I read my desk mate’s crime. To the History question “Who invented the steam locomotive in the 18th century?” he had filled the name Denish Onyango, the math genius who sat across us. I met one of my classmates in Rongo Juinor—Basil Okoth— at the university four years later (2008) and he noticed I was still laughing loudly.

And even laugh even the more. Photo/Sandra Ruong'o
And even laugh even the more. Photo/Sandra Ruong’o

And such is life these days. The world will try to fit you in a box if you are not as trendy, or the person that is updated of the latest hashtag. I have blogged about how my inability to keep up with my generation has made me a social misfit. I am, let’s say that again, socially awkward. Today, I showed up late for an interview. My interviewee asked me what had happened, I gushed “You know I think I am ovulating because I woke up with this huge craving porridge I had to make a cup for myself, and then when I was about to light the oven I realised the matchbox was missing and I looked for it all over the house for one hour only to realise it was inside one of the cooking pans near me. Can you imagine this inanimate things?” I cannot measure them, but I could have sworn as soon as those words were out of my mouth, my eyes widened… and you can see they are already large. He laughed and said “should we order for more porridge from the waiter before the interview?”

I always thought I was hopeless. A couple of weeks ago, I made new friends through my friend Dr Wala. These friends’ awkwardness made me shout “Thank you Jesus I am normal!” What I loved about these women was how attractive their aura was, you wanted to sit there and listen to them gush about the funny things they did and laughed about them later. They were so free in their flaws, it made them so beautiful.

So at this moment, in this dark silent night, I am looking at sketches that defy every rule that I know about garment construction and colour combinations. In Verah Okeyo’s next line of clothes, I want to break rules in tailoring to allow people to wear what represent their inner energy. Our beauty can be wild, inhibited, free and warm.So I will be here after a month, and we will allow all of us to show us their own #WildBeauty.

Please tell me about your #WildBeauty

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Laughable things Public Relations officers tell reporters

If you are attentive in media school, you can amass skills that will enable you to operate in the wide and vast space that is communication and media. From where I studied—Maseno University—creative folks like me had core units from the Creative and Performing Arts department where we were was to be performers as well as managers of performers; philosophers like my friend Frank Njenga were always in the library reading bulky books on “State theory” and whatnot;the programmers who went to learn web design and hacking in the computer science department… I mean, it was a package for you to pick from.

Then there was public relations— a whole area of specialization—headed by one humorous DO Onuong’a. In the 80s, PR was teething in Kenya because organisations did not appreciate the need for having a professional on payroll  to handle the media. The media is a powerful tool. Now,political figures and companies have realised that there is more to giving press conferences and issuing rejoinders. That is why the PR officer has had her/his fortunes changed, in Africa and abroad. As a practising journalist, PROs have certainly been helpful. I have met excellent PROs— Claire Wamalwa, Lianne Kiruiru, Erick Otieno, Monica Muthwii, Annie Mwirikia, Wambui Ndonga, Douglas Waudo and many who I can’t mention.

However the relationship between journalists and PROs has been dwarfed by some statements which I am about to highlight.

“This is a biiiiig story, it will sell your paper tommorow”

I remember one PRO asking me to go cover a sanitary towels donations by a big corporate giant that made billions in profit. The sanitary towels cost about Sh70,000 (about 700USD). I asked whether this would be a long term plan. No. Were these towels special or they were just bought from the supermarket? They were not special. But, she insisted, this was a big story given the issues girls were facing and how they could not stay in school. Some PROs were once practising journalists before so they can judge what would be newsworthy and what editors would spike on the spot. Some are kind enough to open your eyes to an angle that would be worth exploring about a subject you have written about for long. However, there are those ones…

“This story will be good for your name”

You come pitching a story and you think you are doing me a favour? Come on girl/boy! That this will win me an award. Are you effing kidding me right now?

“The meeting is at 7am so you are lucky to have a 5course breakfast”

I appreciate that you are keen to take care of my tummy—truth be told I like eating— but do you have to make it look like that is the peak of the meeting? You think I do not have breakfast in my house?

“I have just spoken to your boss and you must…”

We, reporters, are the people who bust our asses in the field, dealing with egos the size of the continent as well as seeing people in such painful circumstances. We jump on potentially good stories even when they are coming from people we do not like. So when you call me, and you acknowledge that my beat is in-say-agriculture, you should trust me when I tell you “I have covered that angle about Aflatoxin, why don’t we try this new angle?” Then you are not pleased, then you call/email my boss and demand that I write that story in the angle that I just advised you against. So how do we work with respect from that point forward? One PRO had the audacity to ask my boss to compel me to write a story in an hour so that it is published the following day because it was international day for the environment. She was convinced that she had given me all that I needed to write a good story. I had told her that I would come to the ground and see all that she had described in the press release. So I wondered, what was more important? Publish a one sided he said she said 300-word story or flesh out a whole page of balanced coverage of the good work you are doing?

“I know you are just going to sensationalise this….”

I know o colleagues in the newsroom who scored straight As in sciences. They graduated with first class degrees in STEM-science, technology, engineering and mathematics- courses. Then they came to the newsroom to be trained on writing about their areas of specialty. When I was in high school, I solved Math in the evening preps for fun, to relax after I had read that long shit about Kinjekitile Ngwale in History. So even though our grades could allow us access to med schools and other STEM subjects, we chose this career because our personality was best accommodated here.

When we came to the field, we went through rigorous interviews to be hired because we did not have godfathers. In the newsroom, you have to show you are worth the spot even with a godfather. You must continually mine stories from your creative bank every day. For people without a science background like me,  we bust our asses to learn from the professionals whose jobs we write about. We read journals in such technical languages we are ever camped in WhatsApp inboxes of the authors of those papers to ask silly questions until we get it. We make mistakes and pinch our noses never to repeat it again because without sources, you are dead in this career. So after you have gone through what I write, and thereafter contacted me to report on something, why do you assume that I have the brain of an ignoramus that will miss the point?

“Where did you get that information? You are unprofessional because it was not authorised by me”

Like I was supposed to come ask you to take me to the bad shitty stuff your organisation would not want the public to know? Like “Hey, can you give me the data that shows how you have been underpaying and mistreating your employees?” Come on!

“That story is true, but it hurt our client”

I always remind PROs that I owe them fairness, objectivity and utmost professionalism. As I have a job that I protect too, I understand the PROs needs theirs as well. So I would not go after an organisation out of sheer malice. However, in the process of being fair, objective, professional and serve the greater good of the public, I cannot guarantee that my stories will paint your organisation in good light. PROs are supposed to be concerned about the following: Is what I wrote true? Did I give you ample time and chance to respond before I went to press? Anything outside that is fuckery!

Can you add to this list?

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The Leso and the secrets of the sexuality of the Luo woman…part 2

Have you ever heard this myth about the passion that Luo women have in bed? I do not know who carried out the research but that is some anecdotal story out there. First of all, please allow me to apologise for the inconsistency in posting. Forgive me. A lot has been happening: My Twitter was hacked, my Instagram deleted –but there is a new one here yaaay— and I also got a little more responsibilities at work.

Since my last post on how my tribesmen bring women up, I have had interesting conversations with some of you on email. I decided to take this conversation into controversially sensual territories. Let us talk about sex and explore the context under which it is communicated.

I have never considered myself a passionate woman—maybe I am… wait, y’all will ask my husband one day ahahaha— but there is something about raw culture, expressed in art, innocent and unmasked that makes me warm and sentimental. So recently, when I went to Lamu on a health assignment (You can read a story here ) I was amazed at how much my sexuality as a Luo woman is intimately intertwined in a piece of cloth: Leso. If you travel to Tanzania, it will bear a different name (khanga)

On the second day in the evening, I went to check out the tailors, as I always do when I visit a place with such a rich textile culture. I met two interesting women. They were appalled I had on boots. They thought that was too… manly. However, they appreciated that I at least owned a Leso which I had used as a skirt that day. As I sat there, immersed in the Mediterranean culture, I had conversations with them. That drove me back to my childhood, through teenage and now as a woman.

I trace my maternity to Tanzania. So, it was not unusual for my late mother to have Lesos as I have many now.

Rosemary, my mother in... she must have been in her late 30s when this was taken
Rosemary, my mother in… she must have been in her late 30s when this was taken. Y’all can see where I get my numerous gifts from. Rosemary was a nurse but she knitted, crocheted, baked(No I don’t like kitchens so I did not inherit baking ahahaha)

I was just surprised when I looked back at my photographs and I have Lesos on me from as early as my teens.

Me, at 20, in a Leso.. having my western-Swahili groove going on there
Me, at 20, in a Leso.. having my western-Swahili groove going on there PHOTO/Sam Abara
You know I spent a huuuuge part of my teens and 20s being a worship leader... Singing loudly to 4HIM's "We need to get back to the basics of Life"
You know I spent a huuuge part of my teens and 20s being a worship leader, you know being “,mama Kanisa” (mother of the church).This is me after leading a 2,000-member church Christian Union through worship service in 2012. I haven’t stepped in a pulpit with a microphone ever since, except in weddings. Y’all need to sing 4HIM’s “We need to get back to the basics of Life” loudly to me

I have used them in my tailoring as well as to recreate a cheap bohemian décor in my house.

Then I owned a clotheline(Verah Okeyo) and this was among the clothes that made part of my first line, which was inspired by my late sister Carol who loved "stairs"/tiers in her clothes"
Then I owned a clotheline(Verah Okeyo) and this was among the clothes that made part of my first line, which was inspired by my late sister Carol who loved “stairs”/tiers in her clothes” PHOTO/BEN KIRUTHI

A little anthropological history about the Leso. It came to Kenya through Lamu as a consequence of the precolonial trade between East Africa and the Europeans in the 1800s—we might wanna verify that, the exactness is escaping me— and morphed to become more than just a piece of cloth: the women decorated and dyed it as a sign of pride of how well they knew their culture; they used it to communicate, in a very abstract uncoordinated manner with the words that are always inscribed in the fabric. Next week I will write more about the studies into this clothe for our travel pieces in the Business Daily, as I link Lamu to Dare Salam in Tanzania, and show you how contraception in these two cities are linked to Leso. For now let me dwell on how the Leso speaks of the Luo woman’s sexuality

From a young age, I saw my mother gift women with newborn babies with a Leso. For the poorer woman, this may have been the first shawl for her child. If she gave birth at home, she may have lay down on Leso. Later, she would carry the baby on her back with it. As I moved into my teenage and early 20S, I learnt that the cloth was a precautionary thing that young women carried with them just in case they soiled themselves while on their monthly periods. Now this is where it gets interesting. For teenagers, the Leso signified some sort of hidden communication. Anybody who saw a schoolgirl with wrapped around her thought “yes I know you are having your periods, and that is a sign of growth, but I want you to hide it from me”. It is like the society appreciated sexuality but it had to be mysterious and hidden. Behind that Leso. For the older, perhaps married woman, the Leso is a tool of seduction. The man would know when not to ask her for intimacy by just looking at how it would be wrapped around her. It would be on carelessly draping on her lower hip. Without even saying a word, the Leso would be saying “baby, not tonight”.

Most Luo women born and raised in the rural areas never used towels until they went to high school where the need for one was specified in the admission letter. So they use Lesos at home instead of a towel. This is where the seduction begins. Assuming her periods are over, she would go to the bathroom, come back to her husband with that Leso wrapped around her just below her armpits. Her arms, neck and portions of her chest would be exposed. That would be some sort of a gentle invitation. Like “I want you, but I cannot say it”. Usually a thin light cotton, Lesos soften when water is sprinkled on it. So it would cling to her wet body, where he could just pull it away.

So in Lamu, at the shop where I went to buy me one, there were cursory remarks that a woman also gets the Lesos to mark her territory and communicate that to other women. She would choose the one with the message that spoke to those eyeing her man and wear it, with nothing underneath and pass by her competitors. This was a tactic used by the woman with much larger hips. So the fabric allowed the other women to read whatever she was trying to tell them. Yours truly would not have used this tactic at all because she is just an inch short of being called skinny. Let us take a moment and laugh at that. It did not matter whether the messages was read or not, but it sure was communicated.

Me in Lamu, after buying Lesos, in the "manly" boots and of course in a Leso myself. Like I am the real package here
Me in Lamu, after buying Lesos, in the “manly” boots and of course in a Leso myself. Well despite owning over 30 pairs of shoes, that includes heels, those happens to be my favorite pairs of  shoes… yeah I know, I am hopeless

As I had explained in the first part of this article, the Luo woman is brought up to be hospitable. But with the Leso, she has the chance to put boundaries on her hospitality. Like, from without the house, she could serve the night guard food. It was her duty to feed him but she would take that food fully clothed with a Leso wrapped around her waist. In silence, she was saying “I am just from cooking from my man’s house, I am unavailable and I demand your respect”

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