Letter to Cyprian Nyakundi

Cyprian! Cyprian! Cyprian! I always thought the best way to ruin a girl's day is by her waking up with cramps, getting a breakup text from her man at the light of dawn or a call from her boss telling her that she just got fired. The shock on me for it wasn't until I read your posts and realized how wrong I was. First of all, I have never been a feminist. Sure thing, I battle with liking men but that was never a guarantee that I'm a feminist. However, you just made me choose my cup of tea; being a firm feminist.
Society teaches women to conform, that women are supposed to behave in a specific manner. That they are not supposed to stand up for themselves. They aren't even supposed to eat gizzards because they are the inferior members of the society. A few years back, girls were raised with the knowledge that once I hit 13, my parents will need to find me a suitable suitor to marry me. By the time I am 27 years, I should be a mom to about 10 kids. Liberation then occurred for these young girls. Education to the girl child was taken a bit seriously. A real game changer. Even so, young girls barely passed their exams. Once they got home from school they had to work on some chores. In some communities, the young girls still got circumcised. Others still got married off to elder men forcing them to drop out. Some parents said that educating a female child was a waste of time and resources. It was more like shooting a dead cow. The struggle didn't end there. The few that survived school and made it out alive ended up lacking jobs. Reason being, they were women. What did it mean to be a woman in the job market? It meant she is educated, she is knowledgeable but she is misplaced. Why so? Because she should be home attending to her husband and her kids. It also meant she is not capable of handling some work. That she is fragile and unreliable. Therefore, educated women ended up being knowledgeable but went back to being housewives, to relying on their husbands and doing what society expected of them. There's the lot that never gave up. The lot that still fought for jobs getting a place in society as more than just housewives. This lot marked a new dawn for women for they said, "A woman should and must overcome these struggles" In that era, most of these women were seen as a disgrace to the community, others were even associated with witchcraft and called nasty names. All because of getting an education and striving to make their dream for women a reality. The dream that was, "Women deserve better." As much as they had a dream, they had to settle for jobs meant for women, had to dress like women, had to still let the men come first, had to accept lower salaries, had to do both house and office work for again the men weren't supposed to help out as much as they were married to educated women.
Independence. Independence was attained by our women when they started getting highly ranked positions and jobs. We had our first CEO, the first female president, the first female principal, the first female driver, teacher, policewoman, mechanic, and miner. I recall one day. I was an innocent class three kid growing up in a world where women still had a long way to go. As a naïve little girl, I came across a policewoman and only God knows how mesmerized I was. My mom understood why I was surprised and said, "Women are making their marks."
It has been years since then. Women now have a voice. There are more policewomen than the fingers on my hands. More opportunities. The sad thing is; some things haven't changed. Women are sexually assaulted at work and in learning institutions. Some posts still can't be accorded to women because of the label ‘A woman'. There are those who make it through all these struggles. They make it to where they want to be. What happens next? People like Cyprian Nyakundi write about them criticizing their journey, ridiculing their struggle and concluding they don't deserve it. I wonder if you understand the sacrifices women have to make to get there. Extra hours, losing husbands and boyfriends that don't support them, having to be a mom that's in the spotlight. I have read your work. Or rather I have read how you criticize how women get to the top, how it's not worth talking about, how it's a disgrace. How women are the downfall of so many things. Last I checked, women are taking control and working on so many things that aren't failing. Women are proudly making their marks on this planet called earth. What about making it to the top through the wrong path?  (It's wrong according to you) I once read somewhere that it doesn't matter which route you take or what you do. What matters is that you finally get to your destination.
I get it. I get part of it. Ladies have changed. Some have become pests that siphon cash out of men. Others have become empty-headed to the point of throwing up every time someone tells them to read a book. Others can't date a man with no money yet they themselves are more broke than church mice. Some ladies demand so much and offer nothing. Some mothers in the present generation do not even know which types of foods their babies should eat. Others dress hysterically in front of their parents and have zero respect for the elderly. I'm saddened. Saddened by the path some of our ladies are taking. It troubles me that as much as there are women and ladies striving to make it and bring change and redemption for the female species, there are others pulling them behind. Even so, that doesn't make men perfect. Some men have no respect for ladies, others have no intention to make the world a better place and others do not even respect their fellow men. Funny thing is no-one writes or criticizes these men.
There is a young lady somewhere striving to make it in this world. She's putting in extra hours, making sacrifices and trying to pass up the things she is expected to be doing at her age so that she can get to the point of success. You know what worries her? It's not that she will fail, it's the fact that she will succeed and a Cyprian Nyakundi somewhere will write about her story and criticize her saying she doesn't deserve her success. I guess it's true, the world can be a dangerous place to live in.

One More Coin

On her lap lay the baby. With her right hand, she held an umbrella. Next to her was a cup with three shillings. Three silver coins. With her left hand, she held the kanga covering her baby. Raindrops splashed on her clothes. She didn’t mind. In fact, she didn’t seem to mind anything but her baby’s comfort. The weather was chilly but still, she didn’t mind. She actually seemed used to everything going on around her. Two ladies walked towards her, one looked into her cup like she was about to drop more than a shilling. The blonde then looked up, smiled at her friend and said, “Only three coins.” Like sanctified monsters, they walked away smiling. She stared at the cup, looked at the two ladies walking away, stared back at the cup, down at her baby then looked up like nothing had happened. “One more coin,” she muttered to her baby.
A young man wearing a fancy suit walked towards her, reached into his pocket then dropped a coin. A ten shilling coin. I saw her smile as she said, “Thank you”. The young man walked away. Again she looked down at her baby. A few minutes later, the rain stopped. People started showing up in larger masses. They all seemed to assume she was nonexistent. She still didn’t mind. Two hours pass, still no coin. A young boy in the company of his mother walks past her. He seems bothered. So he turns to his mom and asks, “Aren’t you helping her?” His mom turns to him and says, “No son, I don’t have time to waste on filthy people.” The young boy seems shocked. So he keeps on walking. The unexpected happens- after walking for a few yards, the boy stops, frees his hand from his mother’s and runs back. He draws out a 50 shilling note and puts it in the cup. The mother angrily walks up-to him threatening to beat him in public. His response is simple, “That was my money to buy ice-cream. I don’t want any ice-cream.” He walks away leaving his mom no choice but to follow suit. The woman looks at her child, a tear falls down her face. She says to her baby, “We have a note but still, one more coin.”
Marion is her name. Isaac is the baby’s name. For the past six years, I’ve seen her seat on the pavement from my office. Each morning at 8 she arrives at her spot, lays a kanga on the pavement, sets her cup beside her, holds her baby and waits. She is 33 years old. A single parent of two boys. She walks with the assistance of crutches because she has no right leg. The story of how she lost her leg-it’s summed up with a short story.  One night her husband came home drank. Beat her up as usual. On that night, he decided to leave a mark. The mark- he chopped her leg. The same night she decided she had gone through enough during her marriage. She left. Weeks later after her leg healed she was fired. I guess the employer was embarrassed by Marion’s state. There was Marion; no job, no husband, no right leg and a son. She tried to go home to her parents. They said she was an abomination. An abomination for having gotten married to a drunkard, for having lost her leg to a husband meaning the husband must have been displeased with her and for having nothing to call her own. Her parents cast her out. Her husband was not an option. This marked the beginning of Marion’s journey.
She got herself and her son a house in Kibera. The rent, she wasn’t sure she would manage but she was sure she would try. Furthermore, she had enough money to cover the deposit and the first month’s rent. A week in their new home, they had only had one meal. She had tried 5 job opportunities that her new neighbors had told her about. All involved becoming a help or a cleaner. No one wanted to hire her. They all said she couldn’t manage. She was unfit. At the end of that week, she made up her mind. She was ready to take the only option. She was ready to start begging on the streets. I mean, how hard could it be? Monday she started her job. The same Monday was the first time I saw her through my office window seated across the street with a child next to her. On her first days, she would open her mouth to ask for help. She was determined. Some people would heed her cry yet others would just assume her. One week into her job, I was making my way from work I stopped to drop a coin or rather a note. She was grateful.
About a month later, I didn’t see Marion for a week. No-one knew of her where-about. On a Tuesday afternoon, she came back with her child. The same evening she stopped me. I guess she had been waiting for someone and that someone happened to be me.
    “Hey, can we talk?” she boldly asked making passersby gaze. Maybe it was because she uttered some English words or because she knew me. Whichever the case, I stopped.
    “Yea, sure. I can buy us some tea at the Magnolia café,”
    “I hope you will not mind but please buy some takeaway tea. I can’t walk into the café. It’s not for people like me,” she said with a touch of sadness. “I insist,” she added.
I got her some tea and food. To this day, I don’t know how the café manager allowed me to walk out with the cups and plates.
    “You seem like a kind face. A month back you gave me a good amount of money. It helped cover the rent. Thank you.”
    “No need to mention it. I’m Daisy. I work across the street. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen you in a while,”
    “I’m Marion. This is my son Jeff but not Jeff Koinange,” she smiled (I guess she didn’t tell jokes a lot) One evening I got home tired. Jeff was asleep. I accidentally fell asleep on the seat. Unfortunately, I forgot to shut the door forgetting I don’t reside in Runda. I was woken up by some noise in the house. Due to my leg, I couldn’t act fast. Next thing I know, a man was in my house. It all happened so fast. I couldn’t scream or shout because I was in shock and I didn’t want to wake the baby. The long days of sitting with him begging are enough torture. About where I have been- we could say I’ve been nursing my wounds,” she said it lightly. No tears, no regrets, and no hard feelings.
The next hour I sat listening to her. I couldn’t imagine how her life had been. She opened up, told me about her life; where she grew up, how she studied to be a secretary in college, how she loved her man so much that the nights he came home drank she’d do everything for him, her dreams, her marriage, her losses, and her life in Kibera.
It’s been 6 years since Marion and I had that conversation.
As I sit at the café watching her tend to her child with care, I wonder how she has come to love him so much yet he was a result of rape by a man she didn’t know and has never seen again. A young boy walks up to her. It’s her firstborn son, Jeff. He’s really grown. Now he’s in school. Every evening he keeps his mom and younger brother company, sits beside them and does his homework on the pavement which acts as his table. The confidence in that boy.
Walking out of the Magnolia café with two cups of tea, I approach Marion, Jeff, and Isaac. Jeff excitedly yells auntie that’s what he calls me. I sit next to them as they sip their tea, Jeff excitedly talks about school, his teachers, his subjects and his dream to build his mama a house once he becomes a surgeon. I can notice the pride in Marion’s face while she listens to her son.
    “Marion, how has today been?” I ask
    “Auntie, you know what she’ll say,” says Jeff
    “One more coin,” we all say in unison bursting into laughter.
In the midst of that laughter, I come to a realization; they have found comfort and happiness in the struggle. They like it as it is. The life of ONE MORE COIN.

Nairobi Men

Nairobi. The city of dreams, wild nights, busy days, beautiful women and handsome men. The city where everyone seems to be heading somewhere or coming from somewhere. It’s the city that makes shamba boys quit their village jobs to come get city jobs hoping to get more money. The city where innocent girls end up going rogue. It’s the city infested by women that apply layers of make-up. The city where men complain that women are faking but still chase the fake women It’s the city that makes mothers tell their kids, ‘beware of these men’ ‘beware of these ladies’. Nairobi is beautiful; the scenery, the people, the buildings, the artistic craft on the matatus and the food. There’s one thing I love most about Nairobi- the single men.
It’s Saturday night. I’m seated at the counter to a club with my best friend, James. He is one of Nairobi’s eligible bachelors who’s in his late 20’s, drives a nice car, has a good job, has a nice house, physically fit and has the best pick-up lines. He’s obviously not dating. As a matter of fact, a serious relationship is the last thing on his mind.
            “How’s work?” James asks
            “Works great. Just got a promotion after Janet got fired,”
            “The Janet with a good smile?”
            “Why do you always insist on calling her that?”
            “That brunette has a great smile. As a matter of fact, I can now ask her on a date. She’s single, right?”
            “I believe I have seen a guy pick her from the office several times. If that’s the fiance then she is in a serious relationship,”
            “She’s not married so she’s still available. Come through Daisy, don’t be a buzzkill.”
            “Okay. Fine (Tracing Janet’s number on my phone) There you go. Why are you interested in going after what’s already taken?”
“I’m a man. I love challenges. Furthermore, she’s a real catch”
“I thought the lady you took home last night was the real catch. I even banked my hopes on you getting into a relationship,”
            “Thank you for Janet’s number. I’ll definitely give her a call. (He says with a cheeky smile) On to last night’s catch, Ashley. She is okay. Beautiful, smart, has her life in order and a nice job. Though, her booty is quite debatable.”
            “Is lack of booty her real problem?”
            “This morning, I woke up to the smell of pancakes. It was confusing. I rushed to the kitchen only to find Ashley in my shirt flipping pancakes.”
            “I see yesterday you hit the jackpot and took home a lady who is wife material?” I respond smiling
            “Wife material? I met her last night and she’s flipping pancakes in my kitchen after picking her up from a club? Who does that?”
            “Why are you getting pissed? I’m not the one that was in your shirt flipping pancakes after getting chipo’d last night.”
            “Wait till I finish my story then you’ll understand why I’m pissed or rather irritated. Get this, she not only flipped pancakes wearing my shirt, she also said ‘If you want me to leave then come back tonight just say the words, I might even end up leaving my toothbrush tomorrow morning’
            “I feel sorry for you. Tell me you kicked her out?
            “I was modest enough to fake an emergency meeting.”
            “It’s Saturday. You can’t tell me she bought that?”
            “I told her I’m a doctor. She had to believe me or else someone would end up losing their life,”
            (Laughing) “You’re a liar, you know that?”
“Yes I do” he responds laughing
“James, will a day ever come that you’ll get tired?
            “Tired of lying?”
            “I mean sleeping around with ladies. Don’t you want kids?”
            “I will answer that after talking to the lady smiling at me.”
Before I can utter another word, he’s gone. I know what his answer will be. It’s the same answer he has given before. The same response most single guys give, ‘You ladies cannot be trusted. Most you are fake such that I can’t tell who you are without make up. The ladies that are about to get done with campus are busy believing their campus boyfriends about how life will get easier once they are out of school. The rest are busy dealing with sponsors. Those with no boyfriends or sponsors are busy trying to get their lives together believing having a man is a waste of time. The ladies that are working, some are realizing that they have never been in serious relationships and are desperately searching for a man. Such ladies will do anything to get a man and it’s so easy to get them to bed. We love to be challenged. Those that are not desperate, they are hard to get and it’s very attractive but here is the problem, they believe they do not need a man. We want to feel needed. In short, I’d rather mess around to avoid the stress. As I watch him walk up to his new catch, several things worry me. Will he eventually stop? Will he be like the rest of the bachelors who wait till 40 to marry a young girl? Will he get sucked into the world of making money and having fun?
Gone are the days’ men struggled to get ladies. Nowadays they give up when they get what they want or when they realize the struggle will take longer than expected. I know, why campaign after winning an election? Why invest if you may not get returns? Let’s also be real. Men play games and make innocent ladies go bitter to the point of failing to see the worth of men. Nowadays, men rarely take women on real dates. Dates have turned to hangouts that end with going back to the guy’s place, sharing a bed and if the guy is lucky he gets some that night. Having one lady is not enough but having two or more is. If asked, the blame goes to the ladies- mainly that ladies have become loose. Why would ladies want to keep it together yet they will still get played? Why do most single men act perfect expecting single ladies to be the whole package yet they themselves are not the whole package? The men are so busy blaming the women saying women are unfaithful. Question is, are you guys loyal? Why blame the women for using some of your tips and playing the game better than you?
            “Why hasn’t anyone approached you?” asks James interrupting my thoughts
            “Probably because you left your coat hanging in the chair next to mine,”
            “The coat strategy always works. Furthermore, you said you don’t need a man. Has that changed?”
            “Not yet. You aren’t going home with your lady?”
            “Naah. I have her number. I’ll call her tomorrow.”
            “I thought you were to call Janet?”
            “I’ll call them both. Shall we leave?”
            “Yes please.”
Making our way to the door, I notice James smiling and winking at his new lady (He never loses his charm) If only I’d get 24hours to be a man. Get to know how it feels to have the power to hit on a lady, get her interested, take her number and walk away knowing I might never call her. I guess that’s why wishes aren’t horses. Even so, I love the single men of Nairobi.