MESSENGER

CHILD, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL….whisper this to a child near you.

I was doing a story on the teachers returning to work after a long strike that had forced students in public schools stay home. So, now they were back to the classroom and I wanted to tie the story with the strikes had had been witnessed in South Africa, and do a piece on Africa as a striking continent (I know….)

Anyway, this is not about the degradation of Africa. Hold on, you will see where it is going.

So, we arrived at  the primary  school to find the students lined up like policemen…they were singing and clapping for us like dignitaries.  They were staring, because incidentally, on that day, some school inspectors were also visiting them. They looked prepped.

It was uncomfortable.


It was an easy story to do… the class teacher identified someone we could talk to, and by midday, we were done. As we were folding our equipment, the pupils milled around us and stared curiously at the cameras.


They whispered among each other…the air was covered with childhood innocence and bashfulness. We took cover shots of children playing in the field.

Oh, the bliss of childhood.


One of the pupils leaned and told the her friend who was standing next to her in a whisper: “Pia mimi ntakuwa journalist”

I too want to be a journalist.


The other one laughed…real loud.

 It pierced the silence that had otherwise embraced the air.


” Ati unataka kuwa journalist. Hahaha. Journalists lazima wakuwe warembo, hauonangi Julie Gichuru…?” she blurted while still laughing.
The girl who had said she wanted to be a journalist has a big burn scar on her head, through to her neck. She was bald on one side. Her face was somehow distorted…she tried to smile, looking at us…her face was awash with embarrassment.

Oh…her face. She just looked at us, and then looked at the ground. The other laughed.


Then she ran…she RAN!

She ran with my heart…she ran with a part of me. I looked at her as she disappeared behind one of the classrooms...

Tanzania School Girl of Tloma Primary School

(photo credit: mttp images/copyrights)

Oh dear God…Nikilemewa nishike.

That evening, my video man, the most rasta man of all rastaferians, my producer and I sat down and thought of how to bring the girl  and her dreams back from the place where she went to hide.
So, that Saturday, she walked into our studio. Her shoes were shining. Her socks were pulled to her knees. Her uniform was faded…

her mother held her hand.

I had written for her a simple news script -. My producer taught her how to read news from the teleprompter…the videographer outdid himself…taking the shot from  all angles.
She was smiling…she read the news, she was ecstatic…

she was BEAUTIFUL.
We put it in a Dvd and gave it to her- we told her class teacher, and it was shown to her whole school.
My oh My! The silence in that whole as they watched the girl with a scar…the ugly girl being a star on their screen.
Being a journalist. Doing what she had been told she cant do…
 She was beaming…the whole school clapped.

It was all utterly grandiose and flamboyant.
It was about finding that inner thing that is so elusive, that we  struggle so much, because of how people view us. Because of what people have told us….

school-girl

NO! Look, you people of my generation…
WE ARE…
WE ARE…
WE ARE…
WE SO DAMN ARE!!!
Look, you who is reading this, I know you sometimes struggle with little insecurities, inside and outside. You wonder if you are good enough.  You wonder if you can do it, you compare yourself with other people. You second guess yourself…
You look at yourself in  the mirror, and all you see are flaws, you see things that need to be changed, you see someone foreign, someone you do not love staring back at you.
But heeeeey!  I tell you, step out from that mirror, a mirror of self-criticism  that you subject yourself to. I dare you, you who is perhaps too close to the mirror to see what lies deep inside.
So, you listen to the laughter that people pile on you, people who define you and tell you that you are not good enough. You listen to people and their negative vibe and their cowardly attempts to put you down. And you run….
But really, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is not about self image; well that is just a part of it. What I wanted to talk about is “children and how we shape them…”
Yes, you with a  child, how do you ensure that your child, no matter what circumstances is self confident when it comes to image? How do you ensure that your child, yes, that child who is being subjected to so much hatered in the society, how do you cushion that child….?
I say, I say, I say…. “ Today, look at your child in the eye, and tell that child, YOU ARE LOVELY, YOU ARE GOOD, AND YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL….”
It’s the best that you can do. So that no matter how much the media and the society tries to define beauty, you have already shaped your child and told her that she is beautiful, that they are good enough, that they can do it….
Do it. Do it. Do it.
And then above all, look at yourself and ask…when was the last time you  made a difference to someone? Made someone smile?

su_07_yei_drc_school_visit_girl_w_2

Thanks a lot mama, for always telling the five of us about how good we are…for always clapping for us when we stood up and recited poetry, when we marched in church….

Thank you for raising us to believe that we are good, so that no matter how much society tries to redefine beauty and success, they cannot shake the foundation that you built a long time ago…

Build a foundation for your child, will ya? And then no matter how much society tries to crush it, they cant.

Live. Love. continue….

childprotection

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Categories: I AM, MESSENGER | 2 Comments

OH WOMAN-OH!

When Shelter Forum and Kenya Land Alliance were doing the slum upgrading program, I was commissioned to do a story on women living in slums. It was in Korogocho. That was way back when the Kenya Slum Upgrading program (KENSUP) was doing a survey on how to improve the informal settlements.
I got into this house that was made of nothing but mabatis. Inside it was furnace hot. There was a woman lying on bed and her daughter of about 10 years old was kneeling, wiping her mother’s wounds using a wet rag.
The woman’s body was riddled with scars. Her husband beats her…almost every night, she told me. Her daughter continued wiping her wounds without even turning to look at me.
I took down her details, the house, location, names, and all those relevant things that make up a story.
Outside, the world went on. Children played, women sat at their stalls and sold their wares, men pulled handcarts and jumped over the sprawling sewer. Children played in the filthy water, oblivious of the hazards that flowed in that water…

Inside the house that I was, a daughter tried to nurse her mother’s wounds.
We talked. She told me that her husband is an alcoholic who comes home and beats her, she told me that the man once beat her till she couldn’t rise…neighbours had to come and carry her to hospital.
Yet she always returned to that man.
“Why don’t you leave…?” I asked surprised. She smiled weakly; painfully.
“Sasa niende wapi? Mtoto pia ndio huyu anafaa asome…”
Then, the girl looked at me, so much pain in her eyes, I cant forget. She just lifted her head from her mother’s wounds and looked at me briefly. As if she wanted me to say something, as if she knew that she is the burden that keeps her mother in the abusive marriage.
Oh woman!
As I rose to leave, after doing a brief interview with the woman, her daughter looked at me and asked me:
“Hiyo chenye umevaa kwa shingo ni rosary?”
I smiled and told her it was just a beaded necklace, not a rosary.
“Mum, unajua beste wangu wa chuo aliniambia ukihang rosary kwa nyumba nuks huwa zinakuondokea…” she told her mum, almost in a whisper.
Oh NO! the crosses that we carry as we live in this world!
I took my necklace from my neck and gave it to her.
“Si ujaribu kama hii inaweza kusaidia?”
And that night as I sat to do my story, I didn’t write about women and shelter so much.
No, I wrote about the curse of having a vagina. The entrance of our womanhood. The “O” shape that brings forth life…the vulva.
I wrote about how women just stay hoping that it will get better, I wrote about the children who watch this and doubts and hatred is cemented in their future. I wrote about tears on a woman’s fragile eyelashes as she talked about how she can do nothing to save herself…

.
Oh Woman, IgnOrance…the Oh….
I wrote about Domestic ViOlence, that which makes children yearn for nothing but peace, that make children pray for a rOsary so that they can get stillness….
The “O” – zero. Nothing. A universal need for something to fill it…Oh!

I wrote about the vagina…that which has globally put us at the back…
“Sasa ntaenda wapi, mimi ni mwanamke, siwezi shinda nimezunguka…”
That is what I wrote about. The need for women to be empowered that sometimes it is okay to take flight.
wOman, you can run. wOman. You can mOve On. wOman, you can emancipate yourself, you can do it on your own…you can look inside you and take flight. Woman….you are Beautiful!
Do not let your vagina, the “O” in us to put you to the murk of society. Do not stay with a man who abuses you. Do not stay anywhere where it oozes of nothing but negative energy.
Woman, let them call you a cOward, let them call you a lOOser, but run with your life, run with your sanity, run with your dignity, run with your womanhood before he kills you, before he blows off your candle, before he silences you, before he breaks your wing and stops your from moving further. Before he injures your self esteem and leaves you with nothing but emptiness.
I say wOman, you are ABLE, your are STRONG, you are damn too PRECIOUS. In your own way, you are awesome…
And yet you stay when you are hit, you stay when you are emotionally, sexually, physically, verbally, all –ally abused!
You stay in toxic matrimOny, you hang on to friendships that leave you yearning for liberatiOn, you surround yourself with people who do nothing but criticize your every move, you try to live other people’s lives, outside, you smile, inside, you are a turmoil.
Oh wOman, you are sOmebody! You are BLAZING…if you concentrate on your passion, on your strength, on your talents, on your dreams, on your whOleness, then you will be cOmplete.
Do not let the O slow you down-
The O in woman. The O in nothing, zerO and VOid…The O in sOrrOw. The O in Oppress. DOmestic viOlence, HOpelessness, DOOm, Poverty, IgnOrence, wOmb, Orgasm, labOr, !

Oh NO!

I also wrote about the O in GOd, JehOva…
I wrote about the One who is on top of the gradation line..GOd!
Oh dear LOrd. The KingdOm, The POwer, The GlOry is yours…
The One who puts us in different situations. In poverty, in wealth, in pain, in comfort, as man, as woman…so that we can blend into this universe and acknowledge that He is God.
Oh Lord, hallowed by thy name!
Still, woman, you are WORTH a lot more than you ever thought. If only you embraced yourself whole, without looking the other side to see what others might say.
Keep mOving. You wOman!

woman

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I LOST A PART OF ME…

This year, perhaps one of the most memorable stories that I did was when we went to cover a story in a hospice; a place for the palliation of terminally ill or seriously sick patients symptoms.

We walked in a single file to fit the narrow corridors that led to the room where the patients – there were women with cancer, men in their last stages of HIV, children battling terminal diseases…

Pain.

Disease.

People struggling with their ailing bodies.

I was accompanied by more than 10 doctors and other health stakeholders who were taking us round to demystify what the hospices do in the country. The place had a pungent smell of disinfectant, the kind that we used to wash toilets in my high school.

There was a priest, dressed in a white rob standing next to an emaciated child who was being held by a woman to help him sit upright. The priest took some form of oil and made the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The woman holding the child closed her eyes .
There were groans of pain, a baby’s cry of pain, a mother’s despair…

The whole world on someone’s shoulder…

Heavy crosses.

Humanity and their failing bodies.

One of the kids was squatting on the floor, vomiting. The side effects of chemotherapy. The impact of his body shaking from the nausea jerked him from the squatting position, and he fell onto his own vomit….

Aiii, Jameni baba, NIKILEMEWA NISHIKE!

There was a bald woman -In her last stages of breast cancer…she was clutching her head yelling:
“Daktari nidungeni MORPHINE…Nidungeni Morphine…Ghai, naumwa..MORPHINE”

Her teeth were clenched so tight, I could see small veins form on her forehead…waterfall on her fragile eyelashes.

“Mwangi…Mwangi…Mwangi….” She called out to no one in particular;

Her voice echoed over and over into the depth of my soul… A nurse held her down and injected her with something.
She tried to fight, but the drug took effect immediately, and she was calm…a distant look on her face.

She stared blankly into space.

A patient groaned and turned.
A child tried crying… but the only sound that came was a weak cry that sounded more like a mournful howl.
I scribbled on my notebook.

I interviewed the head of Hospice and Palliative care in Kenya.

“You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die…”

That’s what they live by. That is their mantra…

The priest made a sign of the cross on the air…One of the patients had his hands on his chest…the only thing humanity can do when death stands close…to try and embrace the divine. When the land beyond beckons close, the only thing humanity can do is to try and grasp all they can about God, because down here, they are no longer sure of their next breath…because death is becoming a reality more than ever.

There was a boy in his late teenage whose mother held so close being escorted to the bathroom. His whole body shook, he shivered – one painful step after the other. One failing foot after the other…I fixed my gaze on the floor, I couldn’t look. One of the doctors offered to help the woman, so the two of them held him…then he lifted both feet off the ground and swung like a baby…so he just hang on their arms because he couldn’t move his next foot any more…pain was written all over his face.

I stopped writing… I was vacant of words. I was empty of the right descriptive words.
I LOST BITS OF MY RELIGION!

The pain… !

One of the patients was lying on his back, breathing so slowly, taking in painful air…his wife stood next to him, touching his arm, his eyes were closed delicately, as if in a prayer…
Not a groan. Not a sound.

I grabbed a painkiller from my handbag and threw it at the back of my throat, without water, to relieve the headache that was forming on the left side of my head. The smell of the disinfectant rose.
The woman with breast cancer was still seated on her bed, staring blankly into space by the time we were leaving… a part of me remained there.
Am scared to think about what happened to those patients.

Oh Lord; even you father in heaven, You know that Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside while we live…
Like I died, a thousand little deaths in that hospice.

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…AND THEN HE CRIED

When we got there, there was the yellow tape with the words: “POLICE LINE, DO NOT CROSS” Inscribed on it. We had just arrived at Baragoi, Samburu to cover the story of more than 42 policemen who had been killed by villagers in a cattle raid.

There was a man, we had walked with him through the valley as he looked for his brother who worked for the police. He was hopeful, he said that his brother’s phone was still going through, a sign that he was alive…

*I know he is alive…something tells me that he is alive…* he kept saying over and over till it started sounding like a prayer.

Then he saw him. His brother. He was lying on the thorny ground, his body was mutilated.
Oh, the stench.

He was dead.

Hey, let me tell you, I cannot even describe the guttural scream that he let out without my insides shattering. I still feel it as I describe it.

The man broke down. A loud cry. A piercing cry.

The echo of it was carried through out the valley straight into my heart. Into the dry sorrowful thick pungent air that surrounded us.

His brother’s tongue was slightly pulled out, as if he died talking…as if he died trying to tell the world something…as if he died with an interrupted word. As if he…

was trying to have a final taste of life….

I avoided looking at the corpse. I avoided looking at his crying brother, consumed in unfathomable sorrow.
He tore through the police line. Nobody held him…

He cried…

I watched a grown man break down like a baby. The tears -like a mighty sea. His hands were on his head….
My heart shattering, a thousand fragile pieces.

Right there, on the scorched earth of Baragoi
I bit my tongue. Again. Again. And again.

By the time we left that valley, my tongue was bleeding. I could taste salt in my mouth.

I have immortalized those images. Captioned them in my head. Of that man whose cry circled round and round my heart. All I smell is the pungent reek of rotting bodies that I watched being picked at that valley of Baragoi.

It follows me- the nauseating smell at that valley.
The man who broke down and went on his knees when he saw his young brother lying there –
All I remember is his howl.How his defenses were shattered. How his manhood and self preservation abandoned him as the raw pain washed him…
How the other policemen in their massive polished black boots thundered the scorching earth in silence…and how birds flew over the midday sun, making night of day…

All I can think of is how this year has changed me,
I read this.
Over and over and over. And the images still come a new.
Of how that man cried…

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