vulnerability

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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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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Luo Nyanza governments, “waste” money on Aids orphans,not those useless trips

I trace my paternity to Homa Bay, the county with the highest HIV prevalence in Kenya as at 2014 according to data from National Aids Control Council (Nacc). You can check the full report with the statistics for the other 46 counties here for 2015. Expectedly,not much has changed. My work as a journalist has made me relate to Luo Nyanza much more than a daughter of that land. In 2014, my boss and a team of journalists worked on a pull out marking 30 years on AIDS that you can read the 12 pages of the report here. Homa Bay is part of the former Luo Nyanza—Siaya, Migori and Kisumu- which contributes to more than half of the total number of HIV positive people in Kenya.These are boring, albeit heart-breaking, statistics.

However, there is a group that has remained ignored in the conversation on AIDS in Nyanza: the orphans left behind by the virus. Nacc’s 2015 report states that there were 661,119 AIDS orphans. That is a third (31 per cent) of the total 2.1 million orphans in Kenya.Since the aforementioned four counties also lead in prevalence (all people with Aids over the years) as well as incidence (new infections every year), and the deaths it is safe to assume that they may bear the greatest number of AIDS orphans in Kenya.Even global bodies such as UNICEF have conducted studies on the vulnerability that these children face and called for a little more effort in securing their wellbeing and the numbers are rising globally.

Let me put a face to those statistics for you as I tell you about three beautiful children in Rongo, a small town in Migori County. One day my auntie, who is a teacher in a primary school there, packed so much food I asked her whether there was party she was going to. She said she was taking the food to some three young children who never ate and it was exams time. They needed the food to concentrate. On a Saturday, when resting at home and telling stories, these children came home to her to pick flour. I did not need a degree in psychology to notice just how beat up, tired and drained these children—12,6 and 5— were. When I heard their stories, my heart broke. Their parents died in Nairobi in 2014, after which they were brought home to their grandmother. Their granny was too weak and poor to care for them. For that reason, the first born boy has had to grow up so quickly to look after his sisters. My auntie told me that teachers took part in feeding them, but the help was never consistent. Nobody knew what they ate in their home over the weekends, whether they were warm and it never seemed to bother anyone because there are so many of such kinds of stories in Nyanza.

I heard of, and know, these youth who dropped out of school to work as house helps where they were taken advantage of and violated so cruelly even by relatives.Others became pickpockets and sometimes faced the wrath of the public as they stole to survive.I applaud the efforts that have gone into HIV management in Nyanza. Organisation such as Family Aids Care and Education (Faces) headed by my friend Dr Patrick Oyaro have gone out of their way to make the lives of Aids patients bearable. They have provided Antiretroviral therapy, treated and counselled them.However, once the patient dies, the circle ends. This is where the community should step in. It is really annoying that people have watched as these children become pawns in the villages, robbed of their innocence especially when they have no one to stand for them.

Not once, but many times, we have witnessed NGOs and “well-wishers” use these orphans to attract donor funding as these kids live in squalor in homes that even pigs would not be comfortable in. Underfunded and ill equipped children’s departments in counties have not been able to protect them. The only crime they have committed is being born to impoverished communities and losing the only cover that would have kept them safe.

Taking care of Aids orphans is not only an act of compassion or a God given duty for us, but also a public health strategy. These are the children who get sexually active in their early teens, get infected and infect their peers as well, and we all gasp when the statistics for teenage HIV infections are high? Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori have hit the media umbrage for the outrageous things they do with their monies. In the auditor general’s report released in April this year, three of these counties were listed among the 11 that exceeded the Sh124,800 monthly sitting allowance for members of county assemblies(MCAs). Migori(Sh164,729), Homa Bay(Sh148,200), Kisumu(Sh144,089) outdid themselves! Yet, you would be surprised how many families that have survived on as little as Sh3,000 a month.That is enough to feed a child and just ensure that at least they have a roof over their head, and a safe place where they can play and just be children. We spoil our children, work so hard to give them more than they need. Why do we think the other children whose only crime was to be orphaned have needs different from ours? If you can, give them phones as you do your children, but a hungry child just needs some food served to them in love, a warm place where they can sleep. They would be eternally grateful for a shirt to cover their backs they would not care whether it was new or not. They would feel loved too if you asked them how school was and remembered their birthdays. All that which you feel your child needs, is what these orphans desire as well.

Whenever I raise these concerns, Kenyans especially those charged with the duty to take care of these kids drop escapist statements like “Let us fix the system”, “we need a multi-pronged approach for this, money alone will not solve it”. I appreciate the truth in these statements, but should the children wait until the system in Kenya get fixed so that they can get food in their bellies, go to school or be safe from abuse? As we fix the system, shouldn’t we at least keep them healthy physically and emotionally until then? County governments in these four counties need to step up and take care of its future by protecting children who have become casualties in a world adults have created.

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The power of a vulnerable woman

How have you all been? One of these days I am going to dedicate a day when I will meet those of you, virtually or in person, who email to remind me I have not posted a thing on the blog. You do not know how much affirmation comes to a writer from such emails. I appreciate the intimate conversations that I have had with a few of you on email. This means we are bound by chords of humanity which allow us to foster these fulfilling connections over technology. We all cry, laugh, face uncertainty, and sometimes the solutions in walking through these issues come from listening to the experiences of one another. I love you all for that. I do. I promise you that none of you will lose your dignity in my hands, and in this space, when you open up to me about your own versions of what you go through.I got you.

One day, I cannot remember when, it dawned on me that every one of us has ghosts we are confronting. The demons could manifest with the name divorce on it, self esteem issues, abuse, financial woes, disease… just look at yourself or those around you and fill in the blank. Since then, I have become more compassionate towards even the people that attack me viciously. That is why it is hardly surprising that there is a point when we look at our lives and feel stuck. Have you ever felt like that? All your friends seem to be prospering, marrying and raising families, climbing the professional ladder, as you remain frozen at being broke and alone.  You know you are capable of so much more but what you are getting out of life is far cry from all the efforts you are pouring into it. Your partner does not seem to realise how you are giving your all for them. Your children, friends and family take you for granted. The business is incurring losses. You are not as productive at work despite you raking your mind to come up with innovative ideas. You cannot find anything that you can pat yourself in the back for. I have been here. So many times that I figured a way of dealing with it. I would like to share some of my experiences with you in a two part series.

Admit that all is not okay… that you are not okay

A few days ago, I travelled to some remote part south of the African continent. In the evening, with nothing on except my bathrobe, I stood over the balcony to slow down my brain activity. I walked through the day’s activities and the stories I would file for this trip. After some time, I noticed my cheeks were wet with tears and I was also smiling. My body was responding to the chilly wind blowing over it I could feel my pores shut furiously to protect me from the cold. Instead of pulling the robe over me, I let my body bask in the glory of the second stimuli…the African smell of the thirsty soil getting nourished by the rain. It baffled me why I was smiling so broadly and crying at so inconsequential a phenomenon. Then it dawned on me. I had not felt this way in a loooong time…with nothing, but so connected and alive to the universe and myself. I desperately wanted to hang on to that feeling. Oh how it deeply contrasted the abysmal emptiness that had accompanied me  for the last one year glued to routine: waking up, going to work; relationships are held together by obligation. I said “This is not okay. I am not okay”.

I needed to realize that all was not well. Otherwise, I was not going to deal with the root cause of whatever was blocking me from doing the exploits that I am gifted for. Until you acknowledge that there is a problem, you will hide behind excuses and blame everything that is external for whatever is making you this unhappy. You would think more money would fix it, or sex, or partying or drugs. Accepting that there was a problem and that only I could fix it was a huge step towards awakening that fire that makes me a warm open and receptive person. This acknowledgment will allow me to tap into my creativity and write those articles that fire up debate for the good of my country. I will be able to write songs that would heal or touch whoever listens to them. I will be capable of designing clothes that will sell and inspire beauty in the women that wear them.

Me wearing a Verah Okeyo PICTURE/Lameck Ododo
I will be capable of designing clothes that will sell and inspire beauty in the women who wear them. Me wearing a Verah Okeyo trouser. PICTURE/Lameck Ododo of Odo Gallery

Allow yourself to be vulnerable

My friend Sandra always complains at how I never shed a tear in the saddest of situations. I don’t. Some of us face life with this attitude of strength. We never need anyone. Nobody is capable of making us cry or knock us off our emotional balance. We have our shit together and when you come to our lives, we let you know that it would not matter when you leave because we will be okay anyway. I can understand that. We are conditioned to respond to pain from the circumstances around us. The first time I showed weakness, I was stripped of my dignity. From that moment on I have never allowed to be at a spot where I would need pity or help. I kept saying: “I do not need you”, “Do not worry about it, I got this” statements that are ever so incongruent to what I feel because sometimes I am overcome with worry and fear I need someone to tell me “Everything will be okay”. So I have learnt that when you are not vulnerable, you are not accessible.

When you are not vulnerable you are inaccessible PHOTO/Lameck Ododo of Odo Gallery
When you are not vulnerable you are inaccessible PHOTO/Lameck Ododo of Odo Gallery

You miss out on relationships and the connection you desire. Why? People connect to what you are when you do not have make-up or whatever it is that you use to hide the you that you are sure is not desirable. They cannot find that soft, receptive you because you are always in combat mode with your walls high. The moment someone manages to get closer, you attack him or her so viciously they are left hurting and bleeding. You want a partner who will stick around and be your strength when you are terrified of childbirth or a friend who knows how poorly you process death and grief? We want passionate, loyal and devoted affection from our family, friends, lovers and even colleagues but we are not able to allow the vulnerability that comes with that to take place. How else will they know you need a hand when you are trying so hard to be wonder woman? Vulnerability is not a weakness, and if you are hurt while at it, tell yourself that is a good sign because it means that you are capable of caring about someone else other than yourself.

Next week, and I pray time will allow it, we will continue with this conversation. But I would like to hear how you cope with being (un)vulnerable

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