Archives for February 2017

Strong me wanted to cry in public… I didn’t hold back

Earthlings, gather all your drums and percussions because we are going to clap for me. I got into the swimming pool! I did! In the baby section. I did not swim but hey, it is a step towards the right direction right, right?

Y’all should have seen how brave I was…along three year olds who left the edge of the swimming pool

So I am in some really awesome spot, and it is feeding my energy with creativity I just got inspired to blog about something personal, that I know most of us, if not all, go through… wow that was a long sentence. I should probably crack a joke that because I am Luo, I have a taste for fine things in life. I am the real deal, you are looking at it baby ahahaha. What I do know is that after travelling and being blessed with the opportunity to dine and wine with some very refined and wealthy people—journalism is not that bad folk— nothing has ever come close to sweet potatoes served with African tea, brewed on the traditional three-stone stoves and served on a huge plastic cup where you can see traces of firewood in the cup. True story! I am those girls who would ask for corn flour (ugali) and Omena in a five-star hotel in the middle of Nairobi and not blink an eye. I mean it. Well, the waiters always come smiling with “whatever you want is in the house”. So why would I not ask for the damn delicacy?

Behold, omena and Ugali that was only made for three but I ate three quarter of it… My colleagues George Ogutu and Munyao Mutinda asked me today “”You are always eating, where does this food go?” I told them “When you get an answer, invite me for the press conference”

These are the perks—or curse? — of growing up in a rural set up.Once, in campus, I did not know how Weetabix and milk are eaten, so I drank all the milk and then my host was looking at me like Lazarus just woke up from his beauty sleep in the tomb. Let me not get started with how I used talcum powder meant for the feet on my face… we thank God for Arimis milking jelly my friends as a dermatological intervention

Why is this story even important? Stay with me. As I think about my culinary peculiarities, in this place that I am in, I feel a subtle nudge to eat something that I know would make my tummy summersault. I do not want to tell my host that I have acidity issues because I do not want to appear ungrateful. I do not want to tell him that what I am used to, and would love to have, plain old cornflour (ugali) and skuma (kales). As I smile at him, I run my thoughts through several mental programs to establish why this situation is shaking my energy so much, and I realise it reminds me of what I am and how that affects the way I relate with people.

Like very many of us, I work so hard not to be vulnerable-you know like I could not admit I did not know what Weetabix is. Last week, I was chatting with a friend on Facebook with whom we went to college and even attended Christian Union together and she told me “You always seem to have it together” I wanted to laugh because she couldn’t have been further from the truth. Like many people, I am heartbroken when those I care about walk out, but I would never give anybody the satisfaction of seeing that they have that much power over me so I hold the door for them. Towards December, I was nursing my psychological and physical wounds at the home of my friend and philosopher Professor Father Charles Oduke in Bondo. He and I love books and are curious human beings we are always questioning stuff in life. So we can talk for 48 hours non-stop about why he is taller than I!

Me and Father Oduke talking about….. A mango I think ahahahaha. By the way this may look upside down if you are reading this with a phone so I apologise.  PHOTO/Sandra Ruong’o

This time he told me “Verah you must be exhausted trying to control the world and outcomes of everything in it”.  Of course, I was defensive and I dismissed his observations and then a week later I stumbled on those TD Jakes’ half hour sermons talking about the same thing, talking deep to my soul I was shocked. Maybe it is the past we came from that teaches us to be masters of disguise. The last time you opened up to people, showed them who you really are, they rejected or ridiculed you. You told him you had had an abortion in your teenage and he called off the engagement. You asked her to pray for you about your finances and she shared that with the whole prayer group of strangers. You told her about your insecurities at work and she used those against you in an unrelated disagreement. Believe me, there is nothing as scary and galling as being set up for the kill with the very weapons that you know you would not survive against, your Achilles heel. So we put reinforcements to shield ourselves from that kind of pain which we cannot go to the doctor for. Then we walk around life, looking like perfect people, desiring relationships that would shake our worlds and make us better people but afraid of paying the price for it.

Have you stood before unconditional love and let it look you right in the eye? There is no feeling in the world that can compare to that. Then the only thing standing between you and it would be “unverbalised” questions of If you knew who I really am, would you still love me? Do you think you could overlook all these wounds and let me…feel like I am able to stay here with you, marry you, be your friend? So the fear of getting an unpleasant answer to these questions we wear a persona that we think the other person will love, a fake, a perfect person that always has an answer for everything. We, I included, become manipulative beings who have a certain look for that disagreement, a perfume for that insult. Sadly, as Prof Oduke told me, in avoiding pain, I miss out on the joy too. It is okay to say I am broke and I need your help, friend…I am hurt that you fired me, boss… I am confused and I need you to guide me because you have been here, sister…Personally, I think the privilege of being alive needs to be crowned with being present and feel every blessing that I could have gotten it.  Do not want to work so hard to be perfect that I seize doing the lie that I become lie itself so much that I wouldn’t recognise the real thing when I stumbled upon it. I want to gather the courage to be real because it is only then will I want to be present in my life.

Be present… Like the way that bandage dress is on my body PHOTO/Sandra

I want to love aggressively, violently even if imperfectly. I want to be the employee who comes to work and her employer knows her mind is here, regardless of whether she is hungry or not (By the way sometimes I emotional blackmail my boss to bring me snacks so that I can deliver the assignment). I want to be lover who would come home and her partner will feel she has arrived with her madness, happiness but whatever is in there, she is present. Live. In the Now. When Life calls for the register, show and say “Present”

“You would be shocked at the people who come home every night but never come home…who show up for work every day and never show up who live with and love with you and sleep with you abut are not there with you” …TD Jakes

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Why Kenyans cyber bully on matters sexual, survival tips

It started from a simple response to a comment on her wall. It struck a nerve, and in a minute, the insults had morphed into how ugly her daughter was, why she was a single mother and a list of the men she had slept with. If I had not interacted with the media this particular way—as a consumer first, and in a scholarly way as a graduate of communication and now a licensed journalist—my jaws would be dropping at how vicious the social media is. Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) is an army that can bring you to your knees. My colleagues have reported on people who have been driven to the brink of depression by the social media and the cyber bullying therein .Others have committed suicide for bullying. Early this week, I was talking to my broadcast colleague Trevor Ombija, how was bearing the brunt of cyber bullying that was initially meant for me . He told me that is not the first time and I believed him because I have been attacked several times on stories I have written. Journalism, especially in this age where it is moving to the digital space, is a public job and even for me who already knows cyber bullying is an occupational hazard, it still gets to me. I would not cry because of cyber bullying but it certainly would spoil my day. However, that does not mean I belittle the potentially fatal consequences of the social media.

What to do?

Do we run from the social media to protect ourselves? That could be an option. I am not going to get into the debate whether being on twitter adds any value to your life or not, even as a professional .I have sold pieces from my clothesline online; I met the couple who funded my first music album on Facebook, and they are people I value to date; I have had more than 10 journalism fellowships—some very prestigious— through the social media. Before we get into tips to use this space safely, indulge me here on some psychology that I learnt from the few days I was in a classroom as a teacher.

Psychology of social media users in Kenya

A few studies have gone into the use of social media in Kenya. That is expected, given the way in which social media fueled the Arab springs. Activist Boniface Mwangi has rallied Kenyans behind #Mpigs campaigns.  Hashtags have taken a diplomatic twist. Whose ribs cracked in #someonetellNigerians? In her book, Kenya@50: Trends, Identities and the Politics of Belonging (AWESOME BOOK),Joyce Nyairo talks about the construction of identity on the social media. An account like @mkenyahalisi for instance, shows someone who is patriotic. @daktari1 shows you the profession is a doctor. Then there is the psychology of how people act out these identities.

You see, we are either introverted or extroverted. If you are too introverted, your world surrounds you, and you are unaware of what goes on in the world. Too extroverted an individual would live a life devoid of introspection, vain and shallow. A healthy human being needs a balance of the two and Kenyans have failed to do so. To this failure, add the reality that people are usually scared to show who they really are.

I have profiled people I know offline and online and I have seen that on social media, Kenyans use several strategies to bring this balance. They either are in “reaction formation”, where they overdevelop one aspect of themselves. Have you seen a man on twitter who knows everything about maternal health? Even when a practicing gynecologist disagrees with him, the man will quote books and examples from Cambodia to win an argument about Kenya? Tell you what, they are just suppressing the doubt in their head. Those people who are exaggeratedly concerned about women not standing by their financially unstable husbands, have a hidden guilt of their desire to leave their broke men for a richer one.

Then there is displacement.  This is a strategy of folk who cannot express their whole gamut of emotions. It would be socially unacceptable or a weakness. So they take something less negative and bearable. Displacement could be in the form of projection where a vain person always accuses Verah Sidica and her lot of seeking fame and that very vain trait; or scapegoating where these prudish people are perpetually condemning people for the focus on sex in relationships when they are horrified by their own thoughts on sexual proclivities. They cannot tell a man or woman “I am sexually attracted to you” or “I want to experience sexual intimacy” because they are ashamed.

So these kinds of strategies produce several characters. Like the fellow who never disagrees with anyone. S/he types “following” or “amen” or just retweets something. So they become an anonymity even on subjects where their experience would help. Cowards! The crank, always chaperoning about stuff s/he cannot control in his/her own life. These are the folk who would write a whole 300-word post starting with “dear young woman who sleeps with married men” …when they have been sleeping with and taken care of by a married man.  Their walls are full of bible verses in support of marital purity when their lives are far from that ideal. So they attack people who live like they do because they have not owned the manner in which they live their lives. Three, the cynic who is always posting how “men are dogs”/ “women are bitches” don’t trust them. They have clichéd responses to dilemmas like “love yourself enough to take the high road”. These are folks antagonized by what did not go as they planned in life …like they have been in a marriage they have been abused and unsatisfied in but they have not gathered the courage to either deal with the issues or walk out of.

There could be a million other strategies out there, and pseudo personas that people create to bringing this balance. These personalities are what you interact with when you read those vitriolic posted to you in a hashtag.

SO HOW DO WE USE THE SOCIAL MEDIA

  1. Ask “How is this important to the rest of the world?”

Someone said, “Download your private life to the internet and people will upload their opinions”. What is private or not? What should I share with the world or hold on to? This is a difficult judgment to make. I have always wondered, why should I, a stranger, know why you fought with your spouse? I have made this mistake too and I am sharing it as a lesson. Here is a rule of thumb. Do not upload stuff on the internet when you are emotionally charged—too angry or too happy. I am a bomb when I am angry but I channel that to a particular person, usually who triggered that anger. When you are angry and broadcast on Facebook, it is an emotion that is expressed in a vacuum wasted and not harnessed to get you out of that emotional roller coaster. After all of it, you still have the emptiness. You could share a personal experience if you have decided that the misfortune you went through should act as a lesson to women in say, gender violence.

Here is a trick. You could post anything nasty on Facebook about all the angry things you want to say, your sexual proclivities…. but put the privacy to what only YOU can see. You would read it three days later after the anger has dissipated and should you put it out there, you would be ready for the consequences.

2. Hiding in plain sight

I admire my colleague Larry Madowo. He is a heavy user of the social media, from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but only on matters pertaining his work! We do not know who Larry is dating or who he goes out with. This is a skill you should practice. You can be in our faces all the time, but people can try as much as they can to get personal private stuff that they can use against you, and not find any.

3. Understand the personalities

I have just belaboured about those personas on social media. There is a person who does not suffer fools, then there is an overly aggressive one who will find something mean to say about a picture of puppy.

4. Do not engage or call people out certain personalities

In September 2015, someone I trusted made a post on his wall and tagged all my friends from campus mocking me for being an orphan and other tragic things that happened to me offline that I had never even shared even to my close friends. I was away abroad on an assignment, unable to roam and relying on hotel Wi-Fi. After I had gotten over my shock, sent him texts angry as his post, I went to his post and typed “I am sorry”. The post was brought down immediately. Here is a bullet point you need to take home. These personas make life “livable” for these folk. So when you call them out, in public, tear these defences and leave them exposed, what next? Will you put them together again? Will you give them some other persona to live on? Believe me when I say, with your face on your account, a grudge online can be extended offline where people would loo for you to “put you in your place for putting you in their place”.

You could stand up to internet bullies. Wambui Kamiru, wife of Safaricom CEO stood up to bullies with humour. Hers was directed to no one in particular. Here is an interesting scenario. You could be bullied privately by someone who has a personal grudge at you. Something offline taking a life online. I have woken up to inboxes of insults from a person. They are angry at you, but they would not have the got to confront you in person or in public. So s/he comes to your inbox or post in anonymity to Facebook groups so that the rest of equally vain people can attack you on his or her behalf. In this case, stand up to this person but when you notice that even what you say is not being taken to consideration in response, shut the fuck up. Bullies, driven by their own weaknesses, thrive on you shrinking. Do not block them, but do not engage either. It is a psychological battle.

5. Take some time off

Stay off social media for some time. You could deactivate your account or just not visit the accounts at all. Go through your posts in the past and delete some that you feel are not building your professional or business portfolio.

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If he travels, marry him immediately…the story of black Kenyan Chinese

As I said in my previous post, my godfather is heartbroken over why I have not brought anyone home. We are perpetually fighting over the qualities of this prince Charming and he is like “Veroh, what has travelling got to do with anything?” Everything. Everything. When I came into the newsroom in Nation Media group in Nakuru straight from the university, my then boss Muchemi Wachira told me “journalism is great, you will travel a lot”. My eyes lit. I love travelling! Duh.

This is me 6months old in the newsroom, with my tiered green dress I made from t-shirt and my jacket from curtain sheers.

Then he sent me to cover a story in arid Naivasha—Ndabibi— and I wanted to bite his head off. I did not mean this kind of travelling. I wanted five star hotels, plane tickets and sunglasses Bermuda Triangle kind of excursions. However, from that first trip, my eyes were opened to what travelling is. Last year, I visited Lamu, my first time in that county. I had visited the county to check the progress of Kenya’s Sh38billion managed equipment service. Read a little story here. 

Lamu is breathtaking… my country is beautiful.

Lamu… yes lovely Lamu
Everybody say cheeese

So I went to a small village called Faza, with a population of about 50,000. While on the speedboat for two hours, and after knowing it would cost Sh2,00 to ride it, I wondered “what would happen if I were living here and I developed a little complication while on labour and I did not have that Sh2,000 to come to the hospital?”

the boat ride that got me thinking
This is Faza. Not so far from here is Shanghai where there are those Kenyan Chinese

Thank God there was a facility being constructed. After crossing over to the other side (Faza), my attention was drawn…by someone and I completely forgot that I had come here to see a hospital. I saw a man who, to me, was a genetic wonder. He was Kenyan born and bred, to a man and a woman of the Bajuni tribe that is common here but his eyes bore a narrowness that resembles the Chinese’s. He must have felt so uncomfortable at how I looked at him, in awe and perplexity. Before I was over the shock of his eyes, a middle aged Bajuni woman passed me. She had blue eyes, instead of the normal brown eyes that is genetic colour of the eyes of the Negroid (black) race. Then I was told of the stories about these people. A ship that carried the Chinese was wrecked in this island (Pate) during the “Sino-African” trade in which Kenya participated, and specifically at the Lamu Port. So people intermarried. This racial uniqueness has been hidden due to lack of basic infrastructure and illiteracy, two impediments that has cut them not only from healthcare but from the rest of the world as well.

Travelling is to a journalist what internship is to a doctor. On my shoulders lie the responsibility to inform, educate and entertain a population that is as diverse as it is desensitised to what is important.  If I want to talk about, say maternal health, I will only have done my work well when I grab the attention of the senior gynaecologist and that of uneducated woman who is not even aware that decent hospital care is her right.  That kind of professional maturity can only come to you through three things: one, an attitude of openness that allows to listen to both lay and expert opinions on a subject; two, reading as far as you can about that subject and this includes books, peer reviewed journals, international magazines and newspapers; three, wait for it… travelling!  Go to low resources setting hospitals and watch as doctors work nonstop without food, with the same enthusiasm you would have while visiting Netherlands and be in awe at how multinationals like Philips craft their business ideas to survive in a dynamic healthcare business.

Life can teach you resilience and compassion in two ways: experience or watching someone else go through it. I find it difficult to connect and relate to people whose experiences do not stretch beyond their circumstances. If you have never been hungry, you would never see the urgency to help someone who is starving because you have no idea what it means to be hungry. When you visit impoverished places, you develop gratitude for what you have no matter how little it is. All the places I have been gave me a new perception, made me less judgemental, a little more tolerant, a little more courageous to love and give. All those places became part of my experience. I have sung karaoke in bars in Manhattan, a rich city and realised that each of us carry struggle even in the privilege address; I have become content of a meal a day in Turkana and became conscious that human generosity cannot be quantified in money but in the sacrifice the giver makes. When you meet people, they tell you where they grew up, what makes them happy and that adds to your stories…something you did not have before.

Lamu women representative Shakila was fun hanging around. Very beautiful woman and outspoken I loved her

So travel. It is not about money.

#### Excerpts from the book

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A letter to the man who taught me how to love…Valentines day Part 1

I find no coincidence that in my 29 years I have never celebrated valentine’s day… or my birthday. I am, first of all, so forgetful I rely on my diary to remind me to unhang clothes from the line after laundry! The only thing I don’t need reminders for is my time for a plate of ugali and omena. When I am hungry, I am hungry for ten people and the urgency to eat is a multitude’s.

Fellow Kenyans and earthlings, we need to ask nature, and God why I am not getting bigger. I cannot be eating like this and no getting any returns!

Sandra, who has evolved from a friend into a sister and therapist, always remembers. She remembers everything she scares me. So thank God for her I have celebrated my last two birthdays!

As I grow older, I also understand why I do not celebrate those days outwardly: the kind of love that I have been fortunate to have has been quiet, devoid of flair and grandeur and sometimes even from people the society would never approve of, given the religious circles that I have been raised in. So in 2017, I want to celebrate Valentines by acting in a loving way, in honour of the few people who have taught me how to love. Maybe I will wear red for a week- when that happens my Facebook page and Instagram will be all red- or I will treat some random stranger to a kind deed… I do not know, we’ll figure it out.

But I do love red. I counted and calculated and I realised 45 per cent of my clothes are red. Photo/Sandra
I love red so much that one day, one of my superiors asked me “but how can you wear red to work from Monday to Friday?” I said, “I have?” Photo/Sandra

So now, I am in rural Tanzania, in late January 2017. I am wrestling with myself on whether –or not—I should publish my memoirs. If you have been reading my blog or are on my social media accounts, you must have heard me ramble about that book. There is also the monetary challenge there but here is the biggest impediment. The book, like any art that possesses me, is shouting: “You have to release me, because I am meant to live in you, and your job is to package me in words that would best represent how I make you feel, and you are supposed to share me as truthfully raw as you can to the whole world”. I am shouting back at it “I am scared!”. I am a journalist; a career whose perfection draws from so many disciplines that I sometimes lack an answer to tell my seven-year-old when she asks me what I do. Also, journalism has a purpose that is defined and clear: inform, educate and entertain the public. So what, of those three, will my memoir do? So that, right here, is what outsiders never know. There is a lot that goes on between an artiste’s personal space—the crafting, the composition—and the final product that comes out in form of a book, a song, a design, a painting, a picture or poem.

I took this selfie around 8pm, after leaving my cottage to have “fresh air” (That sounds so Hollywood I hate it). The man who had been left to look after me, was super upset because he was afraid I would meet some wild animal to gore me to death. I looked at him and said “Oh!”. Today, as I post this, I am wearing this shirt which I made for a man but  when I finished it I realised his pot belly would not fit in here. So I decide I will wear it because the love I had while making this cannot be shared.

Suddenly, that literary angst dissipates and I smile so broadly I look mad. A moment of contact with nature has just reminded me about one person who taught me about love. He’s the one who encouraged me to keep a journal of every day I lived and publish them before I turned 30. He also enjoyed this communion with nature with me. I am seated here and I am wondering, as he and I used to wonder, how can man possibly imagine he is a separate entity from nature? Right now I can feel the wind trying to blow in tune with my heartbeat, and it will get faster when I go to run in the field. When we abuse the environment and become cruel to animals and children, we are literally hurting ourselves. This down memory lane has given me the courage to write a letter to him even though he will never read it.

Dear You,

Like everyone else, I was also scared, of making the greatest step that would give me the kind of relationships I want in life: the step of being vulnerable. I lived in a “jail”, where there was safety because I did not open myself to anyone and risk being rejected. Communication was barren. Hallo how are you? How is work? How is the city taking you? This is a jail because outside of those walls are people whose contact would change your life forever. Out of this wall are people who would have the gut level communication where you share your judgements, dreams, sins and …warts and all. Who does that without the fear of being rejected, shamed and ridiculed? So we settle for relationships with silence, surface talk. Since I loathe and cannot stand those fraudulent relationships where silence is embraced to “maintain the peace”, I chose reclusion. There, I stayed in my own space, willing to share everything but myself.

Then I met you, and I smiled at you. Somehow, it looked like you had been on a journey of 1,000 lifetimes and you came back home. I knew my hands had held you before. My eyes had watched you sleep before. I just could not remember when. Suddenly, I felt the walls come down, and the inner childlike creative me came to life. It scared me just how free your presence made me feel. There was no ego, no competition, just sharing and being free to fart, chew badly, snore, laugh… there was no pretence.  I gave you everything, and you did give me everything. It did not matter because each of us put the other’s emotional, spiritual and physical well-being as a priority and therefore this “careless generosity” was just us recharging ourselves in a world that treats people like you and I as boring silly unlovable folk. I was emptying and you were filling me as you were also emptying as I filled you. You taught me a lot about music and how to harness my inner emotions—no matter how negative— so as to relate with music and every art in harmony.  From you, I learnt a lesson of the acid test of love which is you cannot say you love anyone until you are able to put him/her before you or your needs before theirs?

Used to control and safety, I was terrified by the effect you had on me. You brought out all the crap in me. The insecurities, my fear of being rejected, my strengths, my creativity… godamned it! I believe I did a pretty god job at annoying you too. I fought you in an effort to get my independence back. Hard as I tried, I could not because my soul needed you to evolve and grow so as to propel me to finish my purpose in this life, and until that process was complete I had to be humble and vulnerable enough to let you feed off me as I fed off you.

I loved you for sharing the most important gift: yourself and everything about you. You were broken, as I was, but every day, you made the decision not to be bitter and angry. Instead, you chose to be kind and compassionate. So I learnt that, when you find someone worth the effort, you have to be vulnerable. They could hurt you, and they do, but they could also give you back with the same intensity as you.

For a while, I blamed you for how everything in my life turned out after I met you. I am sorry. I should have acknowledged that from you, I learnt how to judge who should stay in my life: they have to keep it 100. The person who looks at me the way you did, like I was like some sort of a unicorn who made you curious. The person who touched me the way you did, like I was fragile and about to break. The person who challenged me the way you did, like I was sitting on this goldmine of a talent and I was being selfish for not sharing it. The person who fell in love with all my flaws and never made me feel bad about them, like how a quarter of my hair is grey—and I used to dye it to hide that— and how I sometimes turn into this mean tantrum thrower when I cannot have my way. The person who saw their bodies like I saw mine: that it was a gift to be shared because there was a love there, the greatest part of you that you had to share with another human being. The person who did not try to change me, or find fault in all the scars that life had given me, and the way mu head could be chasing a million things I forget to remove the shower cap from my head as I rush out. The person who calmed my demons as much as I did theirs. The person who thought it was okay to need a person you love, and ask of them, to provide that connection, and emotional intimacy over every material thing. Nobody never taught me that. You did. So now, more than decade later, I thank you for loving me.

Readers, why don’t you share your experience with me? A letter. A thought. I would be honoured to read about your experiences.

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