Chats@30 #MeToo, how power is used to fuck women… up

I recently turned 30, and as a person who attaches little meaning to days, I thought nothing of August 15. My baby sister Sandra took me out for drinks work, two glasses of wine which made me louder than I already am. Today, two months later, I am looking at my journal— yes I write my thoughts down every day since I was 14— and I realised my unconscious effort towards “adulting”, the name my friend Damaris Muga has for growing up. I guess it is a natural process and the only input is a person’s response to the shoulder tap of nature telling you ‘hey, you should let go of this now’ or ‘you are too old for these kinds of tantrums’.

For me, adulting was finally confronting what has tethered me to this one juvenile emotional point: sexual abuse. Iyanla Vanzant once said that the troubles in the psyche of every hurt woman are three Ms: Money, Motherhood and Men. This blog post will not go into my personal struggles with men, but more like talk about the thoughts that went through my head as I went through my own “adulting” in this area.

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual proclivities, I was driven to tears when kind loving women who I have known told me #MeToo and described to the gory details what happened to them. But Verah, how can you write about men, and just limit it to sexual abuse? Is that what they are all about to you? No. Of course not, but the beauty or filth in a man-woman relationship is in how they overcome the power dynamics that have defined those kinds of relationships since time immemorial.  There is nothing as soul-healing as having a man close to you who knows they could snap your neck by a mere slap, or take away your material needs, but then chooses to use that to protect you and allow you to be the authentic version of yourself around him.

I have had that, with my father. My mother (may her soul rest in peace) was …let me find the right word to describe her fiery personality….an opinionated woman with the temper of a sea shark. She was also a very generous woman. I chuckle at how my father made her laugh at her “explosions” and reassure her that he heard her, despite herself. The apple does not fall far from the tree because I am told I am not only a spit and image of my mother but also have a lot of her character. Yet I never felt the need to protect myself around my father’s “towering physique”. I am using those terms to mean how he looked, and what he had materially.

Now, picture my father’s relationship with me, or one that you have with a man in your life. Done that? Ok, now take that relationship and amplify the power therein, times 6,000,000,000. You have a product X after that multiplication.  Now you and I are going to be “pathologists” and conduct a post-mortem of sexual abuse when it occurs to tiny you, in X.

First, let us define X. It is religion, and in my case, it is the Christian faith and its clergy. It is corporations with women-insensitive practices, and bosses that are Weinsteins of this world. It is the judicial and law enforcement systems that operate on laws that humiliate men and women when they seek justice from this violation. It’s the society whose first question to rape is ‘how did you place yourself in a wolf’s path?’

Let’s talk about sex

Sex. Let us think about that for a moment, through a hypothetical scene. He had a bad day at work, bothered by all the burden that a man has to bear like providing for unending needs, and the deadlines at work, and a thousand dependants that only call him for money. A colleague has stabbed me in the back, taken this project that I had frozen my butt for and raked my mind creating, and that heartless cruel boss of mine is still being his psychopathic self, never pass up an opportunity to humiliate me. These are usual pains that we normally rubbish and laugh at, but today they are weighing us down more…because a statement, a word, a look reminded each of us in our separate worlds of experience that scarred us so much. In the evening, I walk into the door of the house he and I share and he knows, he can feel I had a bad day even though I am here bragging about the deal I sealed. As I step on my toe to reach his lips, I can feel he is not okay too. I feel his anger, frustration and pain in his breath in that kiss, and the hug. We cannot talk about it because we have not socialised ourselves to show much emotion even though we feel things. He has mastered the art of convincing the world he’s Superman; I have mastered the art of convincing the world I am Wonderwoman.

So he says he is cooking, and I offer to help, and we laugh about silly things as we eat and watch that silly movie Snatched. Then in the middle of the night, when the rain pours, I lie there next to him. I feel his heartbeat, and I notice just how his thud comes when mine is silent. It is a rhythm, a music of some sort.  Tonight, I don’t want to have fun recreational sex that I always have and he feels that. Tonight, we both need to reassure each other that we’re not just bill-paying machines as our families think, or the stony cold people the world has forced us to be, or self-sufficient human beings who will always show up for themselves even when they are incapacitated. At 3 am, we’ll hold each other, and we will cry while making love, each mourning and bandaging our scars, and we will look into each other’s eyes and tell each other in that intimate silence “you are doing okay, better than okay”. He is usually a strong man, but at this moment, he is a weak dependent little boy and that is okay because I can access him in this state. I can feel his fears and touch his insecurities.  I am also a strong woman, but tonight I’ve given him power over me, just like he gave me power over him the power to know the other’s Achilles heels. Power.

Now imagine, someone skips all the processes I have described above, and touches you, or gets inside of you without your consent.

The rape you can (or cannot) forgive

We have already established that systems—societal, judicial and religious— has failed women in sexual abuse. A woman in Kenya can be less angry at the system for failing to prosecute a stranger who raped her when she is told ‘you showered before coming to report so we could not collect his seminal fluids’ or ‘we ran a test but we have not matched the DNA to any in the system because we have no DNA bank’. With counselling and time, a victim can heal from this kind of assault. Here, power was in the stranger that was physically stronger to subdue the woman, and then the power of police and the courts that are rendered useless in the face of technological challenges. A woman can forgive that and hope someday, there will be a DNA bank to arrest the criminals.

What you can never recover from is the kind of abuse that comes from the Weinsteins of this world—your father, guardian, lover, boyfriend, boss, mentor. These are men a woman trusted would never exploit her but they did because they were empowered and encouraged by a system she pays taxes to defend her when things go wrong. These systems are human resource departments, the police, courts, parents, clergy. This abuse hurts because the stream of power that allows this kind of violation to come to a woman starts with her. She trusts and lets him in her life. She curls her fangs and claws in because she is not sensing any danger. Why should she be afraid of her own father? She used to look into those eyes and see love, and after the rape or abuse, she’ll search those very eyes for an answer to where that love went. Then the woman starts to blame herself. Did I do something wrong? Was I too needy? Did I give too much of myself away?

Then she will try to report this. First to her mother, or someone she trusts. The quick piece of advice she will get is— wait for it— “don’t embarrass that family by speaking about this”. In some instances, she will be beaten and told not to make stories up. The victim will be forced to think about the aggressor’s wife, children, the image of the organisation he works…yes, she has to bear that burden on top of the atrocity that has been committed against her. In some cases, the wife will accuse her of seducing her husband. It is, the wife will claim, the abused woman’s fault that the man was willing to put the honour of his 20-year-old marriage as his direction was driven by his erection. Ain’t it good to be a man, especially in Africa? You do something so vile and then the cogs in the while will be oiled to protect you and beat your victim when her wounds are bleeding.

In the church

It’s worse when rape or any other sexual assault takes places in the context of a religion, a faith. The older women will “support” the assaulted woman by telling her how to dress appropriately, where not to meet men. She will be told, in words laced in bible verses, to work hard to forgive the aggressor, and no room will be allowed for her to curse or express the anger that she feels about what happened to her. She, who has been raped, will be told she has to go before God in prayer and fasting to find out where in her generation was the seed of assault planted and then she will then embark on a torturous journey to break that perceived curse.

Well, it is hard to blame the church for reasoning as such because of the ultimate father (God), whose power we believe in and His book (the bible) which is like a how-to-live manual for Christians, has perpetuated this kind of abuse to women. Genesis Chapter 19 verse 8 (Gen19:8) records of Lot who offered his daughter for a mob to rape to protect his male guests.  The book of Esther, in the first chapter record of how Vashti (my namesake) was dethroned because she refused to strip for King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus, depending on the text you are reading) and his guests. What is more laughable is the reason for Vashti’s punishment. Memucan, an elder, says in verse 16: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behaviour will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’

The woman’s body, according to Memucan and to some member of the clergy, today is public property. She will be stripped in public and raped for dressing inappropriately. Which are the loudest voices in the anti-birth control debates in the Catholic church? Men, who have never been pregnant, or carried a baby to term. This is all power, of God and to the church.

In the office, the woman who’s been assaulted cannot file a suit against that man if he is a boss because she is young and at the onset of her career. She needs that job, and other companies will not hire a feminist diva who will be suing men and attracting negative publicity. Woe unto her if she’s orphaned or comes from a non-existent family and her father is not some diplomat or a man whose names means something in monetary circles. The boss knows he can prey on her and nobody will come to fight for her.

So what happens? The woman retreats to her cocoon, questioning her worth, angry at the world, and it’s going to come out viciously in her attitude, her clothes and her expressions. She will never let anyone near her emotionally. She will die inside. One day, she will meet a man who deserves to access her in her vulnerability because he is a good man, and she will try to love him that open and devotedly, and she will be unable to.

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Malkia#1: Elizabeth Merab,on being an award-winning science reporter in Africa

One time, enjoying the cool breeze of Toledo, Spain, Irene Tato who is the Director of Mundo Sano—an organisation championing science around neglected tropical diseases— was telling me how she loves mentoring young women to live to their potential. As I listened to her, I realised that it takes a special kind of strength and calculation for women to excel in whatever parts of the world they are in. Women have come far— thanks to the Harriet Tubmans and Wangari Maathais of this world— but we MUST appreciate that sisters still have to claw their way up, with blood, sweat and tears. So I decided to use my own little space to create a platform for us to have these conversations about “phenomenal womanism”, chats with women who have made a name for themselves in any field in the world, no matter how grand or little. I named it Malkia, Swahili for Queen.

These thoughts were running through my head as I was eating cake bought for my colleague Elizabeth Merab Mcleans, for her international science reporting award (read the winning story here). I was pouting a little as I ate the cake because she had been travelling a lot – to Germany, South Africa etcetera— and I was there, bored in Nairobi. A few days after that, she was nominated for Thomson Foundation young journalist award (read the nominated story here). Then there was that prestigious Falling Walls Fellowship in Berlin. At Just mid-20s, Merab has moved up the ladder in a niche reporting, and been in the newsroom myself, I could not help but pay homage to her success.

Merab chatting with Nobel laureate Klaus von Klitzing, a German physicist, known for the discovery of the integer quantum Hall effect, for which he was awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physics. This was in a meeting in Landau, Germany for the annual Nobel meetings. PHOTO/Source

 

With no training in media—that kind of tells you ‘the media is a man-eat-man society, be ready’— Elizabeth learnt in the job to act in that space. A Kenyatta University graduate in Education, specializing in English and literature— you know now I get why Merab is not critical of teachers’ strikes— she did not become a health reporter from the first day in the newsroom. So how did a trained teacher, end up in the newsroom?

“I started out by writing about agribusiness for the Seeds of Gold, then moved to writing feature stories about the real estate industry,” she told me, adding that she kept eyeing health and science since this is what she enjoyed. Having suffered a series of health issues herself, Merab drew from her own experiences to excel in her job of amplifying the public’s voice in health care that is always trampled on in Africa by the ruling class. “Health and science reporting goes way deep. It is personal. I always say that I am first a patient before I am a journalist. This is because I have spent a lot of my years (and still do) in the corridors of hospitals in search of personal health services”

Now more than ever, Africa needs journalists like Merab more than ever. The continent is experiencing a shift in the diseases’ profile but its sons and daughters are also excelling in research. Who will link those two? Journalists with a keen eye on health. To rise to the task, Elizabeth built her knowledge on the area she is reporting on, her strategy to achieve that was by enrolling for a Masters’ degree in Medical Sociology at the University of Nairobi.

“The health industry is the backbone of any economy. When you talk of life expectancy, total fertility rate, Years of life lost (YLLs) due to premature mortality etcetera, then you begin to notice the huge role health plays in any country. Health, and by large science journalism, bridges the gap between what scientists know and discover and what the general populace knows and believes”

These subjects get her to the office at 9 a.m. and then screen the “docket assignments”— that is newsroom lingo for a big book on which the editors allocate stories to reporters— or go through social media, other news sites and papers to see what’s in the current affairs pages for a daily story. Merab, along with me and my colleague Eunice Kilonzo who joined corporate communication, was the first reporter in the newly converged science desk at Nation Media Group. That weekly pull out needs perusing through scientific journals such as Nature, the Lancet, as well get ideas on a chat on “what is cooking now in science?”

Merab receiving her certificate from Rhodes University South Africa for science journalism

So networks, with people whose name means something in that area really matter. Excellence, therefore, required a certain degree of sacrifice. “While a typical day should end at 6:30 p.m, I often find myself going home past 8p.m. after classes and sometimes, depending on how the day looks, I may end up missing class to finish up office work”, she said. Any journalist is just as good as her contacts. Creating and maintaining those is no joke especially with people who have not been open to the media before.

But Merab, a lover of fashion, also creates time to look after herself and her wellbeing. She told Verah Okeyo: “I love listening to music, so I must also note that I extremely love dancing—I am almost always the show stopper whenever I go out with friends—I also love fashion, I am yet to push the boundaries of fashion but I love being trendy”. She also loves to watch movies and …. wait for it… going to the shooting range learning how to fire and handle guns!

Is there a woman out there who you want to clap for? Drop me an email at verah@verahokeyo.com 

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Kenyans, cut the crap on this “Kenyan media is lazy” stuff

I was surprised that some foreigners came to study Kenya’s 44th tribe— Kenyans on Twitter, or just KOT— and I wondered what makes Kenya’s internet users so special that they needed an academic paper on  them. I did not know how serious KOT is until I saw that they are a block with a diplomatic impact. Remember how the CNN boss came to apologise to Kenya after calling us a “a hotbed of terror , and then how Televangelist TD Jakes retracted his statement of labeling Kenyans as “natives”? That was due to the “hashtagged” conversations from KOT. In her book, cultural analyst Dr Joyce Nyairo has a whole chapter on the construction of identity from Twitter handles. I wonder what my @BeyondaHeadline says of me.

Kenyans are expressive. I like it, and twitter has spoken for people who otherwise would not have had justice or their voice heard. What I don’t like is how those with massive following criticise the media just because they can, without basis. Is Kenyan media 100 per cent efficient?  Like hell it is. It has a loooong way to go, but we can appreciate the exponential growth it has had . Journalists grow on criticism, but here is why I rubbish some of those corrections.

The critique consumes little or no media at all

I will never forget covering the doctors’ strike from December 5, 2016. I will probably create a chapter in my book on how that time shaped my career and that of many reporters. On a link of 300- word story, you would see comments that begin with “Kenyan media is a sham”. That is alright, but then it goes on to point 1,000 things that the reporter did not explore… in this 300-word piece.

The commenter would not know that there have been  15 stories before this only that s/he has not read, 15 others that would have taken care of the questions that s/he is raising now. In the newspaper, there are news pages, which is mainly to tell you of the NEW thing in this narrative. If you want long, in-depth pieces, then there are features that come out once or twice a week.

Now, in a story that has been going on for two weeks, one picks a paper, reads one a one 300-word news piece and from it, s/he is ready to deliver a 400-word vitriolic verdict on the state of the media in Kenya? And when you ask “what portion of this health story do you feel has not been explored?” they will give you a generic answer like “Universal Health Care”. Give us a fucking break!

A newspaper is not an academic journal

News consumers want an answer to one thing: How is what you are reporting on going to affect me? You have said that the president has assented a bill, so is this going to make my life easier or harder? Yes? Tell me how. Now there are those academics who asks Verah Okeyo to talk about the Hegelian principle to explain to Kenyans why the price of flour has skyrocketed. Thank you for appointing me to that theory because I need to grow my IQ, for my own knowledge on how to approach my reporting, but to actually include those theories in my reporting? You’re tripping.

Consume the right media for you

There are those news sites with headlines like “10 things you did not know about Malaria, number 6 will shock you”. Those sites are not bad. All media represent a certain section of the society, and if you study them you will be surprised just how complex they are in their seemingly simple formats. They are a culture, a state of the needs of people, a phenomenon that can be used to study gender or social psychology. Just like there are 1,2,3 or 5 star hotels, there are news outlets and media houses that lean more to a certain section of the society than others. Now you cannot go consume a certain paper or news outlet that covered the sensational portions of some issue and then use that to judge my journalism which is contained in a niche paper. Gerrarahia!

We are here…to stay, because there are times we get it tight

Now there are times reporters risked their lives to get the news to you and enforce change. The cancer machines that broke down in KNH were fixed. Those huge scandals where your monies were being “eaten”, guess who informed you of those? Journalists. We are here, and believe it or not, a journalist’s primary concern in the public. You. So whenever you read a piece, show the reporter what needs to be added. Unless there is grammar mistakes or defamation or some form of recklessness, you are better off telling us where we are doing wrong than talking down to us.

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Vulnerability, yes that, will save your life…lessons from Spain Part 1

What stands between  us and the awesome people that we could be, are the things that happened to us in childhood or somewhere in our journey through life. The ghosts of the childhood rape are what stands between her and the passionate loving relationship that she could have… the abuse and constant humiliation robbed him of any shred of masculinity… s/he is a great musician/orator/coder but he would not put that work out there for the rest of the world because the first time s/he tried, someone with God given duty to support him/her trashed it. These are scars that are still bleeding years after they happened. They are festering and robbing our souls of the limitless possibilities that life holds

These are scars that are still bleeding years after they happened. They are festering and robbing our souls of the limitless possibilities that life holds

Just like us all, you have all found ways to “accommodate” the mediocrity and shame that come with being wounded. You become comfortable with the very things you loathe. Plastic shallow conversations with those close to you. A job that gives you only money but does not employ all that brilliance within you. You defend and cling on to dysfunction, because that is familiar.You know the structure of dysfunction. It can only get worse, and you can predict that. But love, gentleness, peace, abundance…that you are not quite sure of. Will it always be there? Will mother nature see you fit for those blessings or she will take it away immediately she gave it? To have that kind of loving give-and-take relationship you would need to take these walls down but will s/he stay or run as they curse your bruised pus-loaded wounds that you never even participated in creating and have been unable to heal on your own? No, you cannot take that risk. So you open the window of the cage just to admire and smell the fresh air of love, creativity and then, as brief as the opening was, you retreat to that mediocre laden bastardy that drains you of the awesomeness with which you were created. The real you would help that depressed friend of yours out of suicide. The real you would write Pulitzer-worthy articles or grammy-league movies and music. But nobody will never know, will we?

So at 3 in the morning, when you are done putting a face for the world, you think: “My kind of person is Peter, I can talk to him about that silly painting I saw in the exhibition and how it reminds of the Greek culture” …. but I cannot do that. I wish my spouse can tell me about her/his fears, judgement and all those horrifying things that run through their heads and not cringe when I share mine as well”. You wish there was somebody who would be in touch with the child in you—because that is where your life oozes from because it is really you— and for that person not to make comparisons between the king the world knows during the day and the child that comes to life when the cameras retreat into oblivion.

Pathology of pain

You are a rare breed because this much pretense would have killed anybody’s true self but not yours. The fire in you has not been extinguished. You want to BE. Otherwise,  you would not be disregarding your own bleeding wounds to attend to another human being who you sense is hurting. Behind that strong combative face is an empath, a highly sensitive person who feels a wounded spirit from a mile away or even in a smile. You know the pathology of pain. You and your soul have traveled this road—maybe millions of years before this lifetime— and you have found coping mechanisms. When you see someone who is just about to go down that road, you will offer your non-judgmental ears. You will make it safe for them to break down about whatever they are going through and let them soil your shoulder with their mucus. You will stand before the public arrows to protect them because you know… damn you know.  This empathy is a strategy as it is part of your DNA. You developed one part of your life to perfection—a job, an art or acquire material things— that nobody would ignore you because you are so good at these areas that the person that you are beyond them are irrelevant. People trust you with their issues because they see strength in these gifts of yours.

Let me share my personal experience with you. I have this wild artistic personality that, quite frankly I cannot describe in one word: I know a little more than a little about music—I have even recorded an album and was a worship leader in a 1,500plus-congregation for the four years I was in college; I design clothes, and even registered a clothesline; I write…a lot, about everything and from the feedback, my writing is not that bad, so much that I have won awards for it;  I am those girls who can analyse movies about sci-fi and show you some link it has to religion in the 14th century and pop culture …blame it on reading books and spending a substantial part of my teenage in a convent where I preferred staying in the library than working in the farm(I always had homework when Sister Magdalene sent me to the farm ahahahaha); I like Do-it-Yourself stuff such that my house even has my own made curtains, table mats… I even designed and participated in making my own bed! I have made friends founded on those subjects—music, textiles, books, journalism— but there is always a great dissolution in the few people who interact with me when I take off the mask of tailoring, journalism and music away.

Toledo!

I never noticed this until I looked at my photos of a trip I was privileged to have to Spain recently. I was just looking at the pictures in my Instagram and some that I had not uploaded today. The pictures of me in public, were me in a combative-ish mode… like me holding a sword and alluding to Joan of Arc or adding some seriousness to a simple picture with words like “science journalism”.

Then there were those pictures that were taken of me away from the public. This is where I could see the child in me resurface. The pictures of me near a plate of food— I do not know why I am still slim I swear— were happier, and around people whose vibration and energy make me feel …safe

The selfie I took of my forehead that I knocked on the door as I pretended I superstar Gaby Moreno singing Fuiste tú rather loudly to Ricardo Arjona … Yeah, I also gave up on my sanity too. The picture where I was laughing till you could see my molar was me standing on stones just outside out my hotel, and playing in the rain…at night (No, we shall not upload those because I have a job to maintain). I love nature (cats, dogs, any animals, and rivers, trees) and it is where I feel happiest, doing silly things, like rolling on the grass or something.

The question is, now that we have established that we need to open the wounded child part of us, how will we do it and with whom? Because doing it wrong could actually turn the wounds fatal.

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Dear Safaricom and Collymore, what are you doing with our data?

Dear Bob Collymore,

I posted on my Instagram about how I was about to blog on turning my T-shirt into an outfit that I wore of the media awards on Wednesday.

This was a t-shirt I got me last year and I turned into a blouse…. Post on my blog in a few

A post shared by Verah Okeyo (@verahvashtiokeyo) on

That is not going to be possible because of Kenya’s largest data provider: the company you manage, Safaricom. This whole thing started three weeks ago. My work as a journalist means I use the internet a lot. Thankfully, my employer provides me with Wi-Fi at the office. I normally buy 3gigabytes of data for my phone when I have left the office. Before the aforementioned days, I would stream YouTube, watch videos and that 3GB would be enough for more than three weeks. Then one day on my day off, I got a message that my data was 500MB. I thought that was strange given I had just bought the data two days before. Then another message barely ten minutes later that I was at 250, then 75MB. I had emails to send so I bought another 1GB at 3pm. I did send a few emails with the 1GB, and the following day on my way to work inside a public service vehicle, I got a message that my data bundle was at 75MB. In less than a week, I had used more than 8GB! I thought I was wasteful, then I went online and I found thousands of complaints on the group Buyer Beware on Facebook when many people posted the funny messages they got from Safaricom on data depletion.

So Sir, I would like to know the rate with which you charge your data. If there was nothing wrong with the costing, why did you introduce the messages reminding us of the balance? Surely, there is definitely something wrong when hundreds of us are complaining. I have made more than ten inquiries.

Instead of doing something about it, you directed us to a page where you promise that we will learn how to control our data “for free”. I have obeyed those rules therein but still, I lose data so quickly.

We can track rates for insurance, gas but we cannot see how you cost the data for the more than 30million of us on the internet.  We trust you that as we use your very capable platform, you will not abuse us, and quite frankly, you are abusing us right now on data. So please make me understand.

 Yours, Verah Okeyo, a disgruntled Safaricom client

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Cancer, and how to celebrate Easter this year like a god

The last one of them died today. The cancer patient who came to the newsroom seeking to have their story aired so that they could pay their bills in private facilities when public hospitals were closed during the doctors’ strike. One of them died on the day his story was published. I think my greatest test of emotional intelligence as a journalist and a woman was covering the doctors’ strike, arguably the longest doctors’ strike in Kenya’s history after independence. On the first day of the strike, my colleague photographer Dennis Onsongo and I met people with infections that we knew would have killed them if they did not get medical attention fast. So we put our notebooks and cameras in the pocket and placed human life before a story, then went on with our work later.

I met Rose Adhiambo through Kenya Cancer Association (Kencasa), an organisation that offers some little support for cancer patients in Kenya. She was at Nairobi West Hospital where she was being treated since Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) was closed. My colleague Leila Mohammed from NTV shot her story.

As she talked of how her friends ran away from her, how she was worried for her two girls and sonnwho now have to fend for themselves, I felt a knot in my tummy. I looked at her daughter standing near her, wiping her tears, willing to give anything to see her mother okay, and it just broke my heart that people had to live like this. Her children stopped living. They work, go to school, make trips to the hospital to see their mother. They had no time to be children. Rose died on Wednesday, just a few days before the death of Jesus. Her daughters are now in Kibera, without a guardian or a means of income. I do not need to tell you just how tragic that narrative can turn for those girls and a son in just a few months and they will have no future. As Rose kept calling after the story aired, asking whether anyone offered to help, she made it clear that her greatest fear was that she would die and her children would be alone. She died; they are now alone.

These stories just made me wonder. Isn’t great to have a choice? A choice to work on this one story over that; to talk to this person or not; to attend this event or that… That is a choice that people with cancer do not have. Rose’s diagnosis and death will not even make headlines like Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o’s. She is poor. When you have cancer, you will have to pay attention to your body because of the pain. It will stop you from doing the things others take for granted like a friend calling you for coffee and you turn it down because you “do not feel like it”. A choice to stay indoors for Easter for instance. For them, time is a luxury. Every second counts because they do not know when they will wake up and they would not be able to hold their children. Sometimes that fear comes to pass and they die.

As we celebrate Easter, I would like to make an appeal to us Kenyans. I have no right to tell you how to spend your money, but I would like to make a proposal. What if your bottle of beer tonight changed the life of a needy orphan such as Rose’s? At Kencasa, there are so many of these people who have been impoverished or completely tethered to misery because of cancer. They cannot afford food, rent or just basic life necessities like water. It is easy to rubbish this as “these cases of appeal have become too many” but today I’d like you to imagine that another human being’s discomfort is greater than yours and deny yourself something for them. A sacrificial act of kindness makes us supernatural. We become little gods when we resist the temptation to attend to our needs and take care of another creature who may not even pay you back. Sometimes helping others leave you in material need yourself but I am in faith with you that you would be kind today.

We are a kind generous and hospitable nation. See how many refugees live amongst us? Kenyans pay bills for people they do not know to get medical care in India. We share those posts of requests for fees or funeral expenses on our social media walls. I know we can get into the discussion about how we need to fix the system so that there are no cases like Rose’s but the truth is, she is dead. Her children are now orphans, and it does not matter whether they lost their mother because of a broken health/social system or not. It could have been an accident. As we fix the system, those girls need food to eat and have a roof over their head. Jesus is dying today, and with him I would like you to deaden your desire to take care of you, just this once. Be a Judas and betray your needs and attend to another. Today, be kind to someone. Mothers, give some of the clothes your children have to another mother or an orphanage. Ladies, allow the woman who does your laundry to take those clothes/ shoes/ bags you have never worn for ages and you probably never will.

Should you want to help Rose’s kids( two girls and a son) please contact Kencasa: Moses Osani, Programmes Officer, Kenya Cancer Association, Situated at Nurses Complex at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and the phone number is +254716145616

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Legendary gospel songs in Kenya; what they tell us about gospel music today

Today I was looking at my friend musician Douglas Jiveti’s picture and I was laughing at how digital he has become, a growth so parallel to the gospel music industry in Kenya. Who remembers Nduti Onestop video productions where people were floated on a mountain when they were singing that God created the mountains? My goodness! If you had a Gratewall Black and white TV – with that detachable colour screen looooool— you must have watched Joy Bringers on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation(KBC), just a few minutes before Juma Mdudu’s Burudani was off screen. Due to my age, my memory does not take me so far but I guess I would credit Reuben Kigame and Douglas Jiveti – by the way they are great friends— as the fathers of contemporary music. The permission to choreograph songs that was so popularised by Maximum Melodies was a right those two fought for. Coincidentally Jiveti’s Yesu aliyesulubiwa was the opening song for Kuna Nuru gizani programme by Pr Pius Muiru from where the Maximum melodies.

It is sad Kenya has little or no culture of documenting our art. What can music tell us really? A lot, like the change in cultural, perceptions, attitudes on gender and politics around us. Take arrangement and writing for instance. Composers are breaking some rules on the use of compositions— like major chords being for happy songs as minor ones being for sad songs— and becoming emotional ambiguous as is the world today, and there is a study that shows this has been changing since 1960s. Dr Nyairo’s Kenya@50: Trends, Identities and the Politics of Belonging shows you how- from Maroon Commandos to Esir—songs’ lyrics is a testimony of the temperature of the politics in our country. Y’all should read that book, I highly recommend it. So, let me sample a few gospel songs, which by the way are not exhaustive. I talk from the few pieces that I have listened to.

Mary Atieno Adamu and Eva

You cannot fail to fail to recognise Mary Atieno Ominde’s steady voice… and that leader guitar in her songs. What stands out for me in Mary’s songs is how she chooses the themes. In Adamu na Eva, she starts with narrating the fall of man in Adam and Eve  and goes on to the third verse to carry out some evangelism role asking you “where will you go after you die?”. That can be seen in Sodoma and Gomora and Sauli mbona wanitesa (Saul why are you persecuting me?),a song inspired by Saul’s encounter with Jesus on his way to Damascus.  I don’t know what the dominant social issues in Mary’s time – I was not paying my own bills then for sure— but I know now the issues young people are facing want to talk about hope and the ability of God to grant you your earth’s desires, more than the hit-hard are-you-going-to-hell? stuff. Let’s us Sample Bahati’s songs: after his opening “Bahati tena”, comes Machoz of how God picked him from poverty, then he and Deno with Story Yangu  on the same topic.

Godwin Ngosso siku ya Kufa Kwangu

I do not know where Godwin went, but he had this song—Siku ya Kufa Kwangu — that was so profound on matter of life and death that it would be played before death announcements on radio. What I noticed in Godwin’s music was the people singing the backup and playing instruments. Notice the keyoboardist is Abedi Ngoso , a musician and a producer of his own right but there is no mention of “Godwin featuring Abeddy”. Today, there are collabos, and the only thing we can talk about them is whether one musician outshone the other or not. Today’s gospel artistes collaborate with one another, pooling different styles into a song. Look at Gospel Fathers, Jogg C and Mr Vee Fundi wa Mbao

Reuben Kigame Mshukuruni Bwana is a Pentecostal anthem, a masterpiece.  Well what would you expect of Reuben Kigame who has studied music to the highest echelons in terms of performance and the theology behind it? You would notice the song is downloaded word by word from Psalms 136. Now the gospel musicians today take their songs from the bible but they are paraphrased in a way to include Sheng’ but still inspired from the bible and sampled from many verses. Let’s take Owen “Daddy Owen” Mwatia Kazi ya Msalaba” from Psalms 146, 59 and other parts.

We cannot fail to notice how today’s musician does not stress being affiliated to any particular church. They can perform in various places, unlike their older generation would be in one church. What have you noticed of Kenya’s music, not just gospel.

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