Archives for March 2017

In memory of Lilianne Otieno, and why you should take pictures of everything

On March 19, 2017, my friend Lillian went to be with the Lord in a tragic road accident. A week before her demise I had taken a challenge from my friend and journalist Silas Nyanchwani on how to write an obituary. You know one of those things we do as journalists is write obituaries. No, not those announcements you see at the backpage of the paper. It is a critique of someone’s life, the way they lived, their contribution to a particular discipline. The writing about Michael Jackson cannot be limited to the day he was born and his moon walking. Now I am here and I am trying to write Lillian’s and I can’t. I began the year in her company and I can’t believe, I’m going to spend easter laying her to rest.

I am an extremely sensitive person. I trust my intuition more than I do logic and the people I keep in my life are those I met for the first time and the cacophony of spirits I walk with calmed down. Lilliane was such a person. I met her and I knew she was going to have this profound impact in my life. She had this warm welcoming aura around her. She would laugh and you could feel her breath was laboured in that laughter because of how honest she was even in her affection and expression. She noticed the “littlelest” things about people and reminded you in the next meeting. When I told her I ran a modest clotheline, she would remember to bring that subject up whenever we met her friends. “If you want clothes designed for you, talk to this girl”, she would say. Lilliane showed up for the least of things for her friends…she celebrated birthdays, promotions, new hairstyle…anything. As I launched my clotheline last year, she had travelled at night to come support me. The discomfort she endured, made my heart create such a large space for her because that kindness is hard to come by these days. In January 1, 2017 we drove back to the city from western where she had gone for the funeral of a brother of her best friend Angie. And peculiarly enough, she lost her life coming from another funeral in March.

I met her through my buddy Sandra when I was on an extremely low point in my life. A tourism enthusiast and promoter of the brand Kenya, she would engage Sandra and her photography. An antisocial person myself, I would come lock the gate as she came to pick Sandra so that the two of them would go on their photography expeditions. Later, I would wait in the house to listen to Sandra gush about all the fun they had. Later, I would seat next to Sandra as she edited her photos. Early this month I went to the Nation Media Group’s library where I borrowed books on social media and everyday life. I wanted to study social media as a phenomenon… like religion or global health. One of the subjects I got there was death and grief in the digital age, and Lilianne’s life couldn’t have been a better way to demonstrate this phenomenon. She took photos of people she met, always with a kind word as a caption. Now in her timeline on Facebook,  the impact she had on people keep pouring two weeks after her death. People still post pictures of her free and generous spirit.

And I realise that while social media is criticised for being breeding antisocial behaviour, it gave people a chance to mourn over her death. Lilianne used social media heavily but her friendships were solid and deep. There are relationships that extended up to her days in high school in Kaimosi girls, more than 20 years ago. For the two weeks, people came out from all corners of the earth to support her sisters and help organise her funeral. Through social media, fundraisers were organised. In the wake, one person said that the last time she was with Lilianne, she(Lily) had nagged her to take a photo with her. She had bsent reluctant because she thought she was not presentable, but Lily had insisted to take the photo.

What her social media accounts demonstrated to me was while it is not a walk in the park, loving people genuinely and kindly leaves a legacy more than materials you may give them. Lily hugged, gave and comforted faster than she reprimanded. If there was a woman who had reasons to be bitter and hate because of betrayals, it would be her but instead Lily loved genuinely and unreservedly.

Rest in peace Mama Tendai

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Can we talk… no, cry about miscarriage?

There is something naturally unifying about pain. It just brings the oddest people together. I would have given anything not to share a common resource with this one woman. She unnerved me, made the bitch in me shine like a diamond even in those days that I had just prayed for the strength to stay sane.

Early this month, that usual aggression in her just seemed to have…vanished. I looked at her and I felt an energy of guilt and…pain in her aura move to me. I rubbished it for the first few days—o pride! — then one day I gathered courage to share pancakes with her.When she allowed me in, I asked her whether she was okay. Tearfully, she told me she had miscarried her baby. At that moment, I forgot all about our fights because I knew what parts of her needed touching and hugging: the one that had hoped her pregnancy had lived to term. She did not need to explain to me how she felt. The guilt that maybe she could have taken care of herself more. The questions of whether there is something inherently wrong with her that mother nature would allow her to carry a life. The sense of loss when you look at the walls you painted, the clothes you bought in readiness… the names you had chosen. The anger that wells inside of you when people remark “you will get another child” as if you could just replace one baby with another.

The loss of a child for a woman is personal, and deep it becomes this abysmal emptiness that accompanies her forever. Life grows inside a woman, and it is life in its totality. It is memories of what she felt for the man with whom she made the child- whether he treated her right or nor, whether he was a gentle or passionate lover or not, and many other things. It is her life revolving around her baby…which hospital will I deliver in… do I have enough money for it, no? let me work harder in the first trimester. It is the name she choses and what prophetic message those names have for her child. It is imagining how it would look like, with her foul temper or her father’s. You can imagine how hard it is for her to let go of the physical body of the baby and all these other things.

This year, I have had these epiphanies and great contrasts as I carry out my job, a flash of second that just made me realise how beautiful children are, not just because of the way they are but the process of bringing them into this world. Very close friends of mine have fought for dear life in the process of trying to have a baby; then I have encountered painful circumstances of children who have been abandoned. I was talking to Rita Munyae( read the story here), an administrator of Childline Kenya, a non-governmental organisation that, among many other things, rescues children. It is housed in Lower Kabete in Nairobi, and my heart broke about stories of children who have had to live there because someone did not want them.

As a journalist, maternal and child health has been one of my key subjects which I cover with great gusto and activism. From hospitals that use data to reduce the mortalities, to poor referral systems in Kenya that kill women. I had never thought about a miscarriage as one of the topics in the maternal health conversation.

Yet in intimate spaces where women talk to each other, pour their hearts out about their scars and heartbreaks, I have heard these stories that move beyond the statistics. It is not just about a health system, it is a society that places so much pressure on a woman to have babies without realising the emotional, physical and spiritual investment that goes into making a baby. It is easy as ABC for a majority of women but there is that negligible percentage that is medically disadvantaged where each second they are pregnant they are just rubbing shoulders with death. When they miscarry, this very society cannot begin to comprehend the loss and they make remarks like “thank God you did not see or touch it”. Except she did, in her soul and spirit because she would crave things she did not even want before. She heard it kick…move. In these intimate spaces, women spoke of guilty they harbour for not being able to give their partners the opportunity to be a father. They cried about a desire to pray more imagining that whatever sins they had in the past could be forgiven so that mother nature could allow them to have babies too.

So this month, I will have a multimedia story of women who will tell you about their experience in miscarriages. I would like to provide a platform for women, and men as well, to talk about this loss. There is no knot too tight we cannot undo if only we allowed ourselves to acknowledge that we wanted something and it did not want us back and that hurt.

Should you want to share, email me okeyoverah@gmail.com or vokeyo@ke.nationmedia.com. I will call you and we will talk.

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