If you will Stay, Stay

You are 20 weeks old today. I told the doctor to stop with this ‘weeks’ nonsense and tell me how old you really are. He laughed and said twelve weeks. I smiled. Not because I am happy with his insistence that he will say what he says even when he knows our ears count months and not days. But because maybe this time, he will convince you to stay. Me? I refuse to Nnwa. If you come, come. If you will insist on leaving, Can I stop you? Thrice I have tried. No more.

I should be calling people like your father. See him beaming the room into a shine. I find it irritating. This celebration of uncertainties. You would think he has not lost children the way he is calling everyone and sending your picture everywhere; even when I have told him he is feeding evil eyes like a blind man. But he will not stop. You were never this old before. You have given him something I thought he could never build again. I want to say it is hope but it seems like it is so much more. You are giving him back pieces of his heart. So I let him dance. At least that way when the beat changes, he will already be standing, and there will be no need to stop.

They flood in like clockwork. Every drive for the next check-up is a drive through memory lane. Even the people in my head sit quietly because when it rains, it floods. I have willed myself to forget the parts where you exist. Even if in the slightest. Those ones I could not bear to re- live. But the voices will not go away.

Your father’s sister: But will you cry until you die and kill my brother for me? It is just blood, you will get another.

Let him drown in my tears if he can…it is just blood…just blood…

Mama Nena from two doors down: Life must move on…it has happened eh, but we must move on

We? Shut up. Do we share a womb? Did we lose my child that I carried? Shut up!

Mama: It is all God’s will…all that happens is on God’s will. Take heart, my daughter.

Eih! I wish you had not spoken because now I do not know what to feel when I look at you. For long time I will think of my mother and think of these words.  It is God’s will that my child dies three times before I can see them, eh? It is God’s will? It is only because you are my mother that…

And then there was Kwaso. Bouncing her baby number something or other on her hip. I saw what she was doing; staring at your father  with eyes promising she could get pregnant for him if he just passed by her side. ‘Tried and tested!’ I heard her whisper not so quietly once. She has been chasing him around for months. She seems to forget that I am childless, not blind.  Instant nine-month pregnancy, just add hot water. I almost smile at the thought. It would be funny if it were not so sad. She can keep children but no man. I am the other. This life. I want to ask her why she came because is she not the one that said your father should stop wasting his time with a ‘woman that cannot prove her worth’. Is she not the one carrying wine to a drunkard’s house? I look at her and smile. Because that is what you do when guests come to your house. And I have no energy to swat off flies.

…Maybe he should marry again…just not Kwaso…isn’t loving someone letting them go? Ah! Too many thoughts.

Father: Let her be. She will mourn until she is ready.

Say it louder. I want to beg you to say it louder. I cry more because for once, someone sees that this is my own…can’t they listen to you and let me be?

Drink this, it is good for you. No, eat that…are you supposed to be drinking that this early?

…go away…please…I will mourn how I will mourn. Can I not even do that in peace?

She really should let someone carry her load ah ah! Why does she keep trying when the signs are clear?

…I…I…

Sister Florence: …but is she the first woman to lose a child? I am just saying she has mourned enough…

Mourned enough…mourned enough…

They go on and on; rolling into one another until my head aches and I sleep dreaming of how good it felt to slap Sister Florences’ face. I remember because she is now here. They are all here. Because it is God’s time, they say, they have come to greet you. I told your father not to call them but here they are with gifts I will burn when they leave. I do not want their words soaking through the sweaters they have knit and choking you; stirring you to leave again.

I know you can see my thoughts. I don’t know if I care. Not anymore. Thrice you have ripped my heart apart. It has become our dance, yours and mine and it seems I will only be happy when I die. For even if you stay, every waking moment will be spent keeping you; ensuring you do not leave.

You will consume me Nnwa. You have destroyed me. You are the fire that burns me and the fire that makes my tea. To kill the fire would save me from burns but yet kill me with hunger. If you stay, stay. I know it is not for me – that much we have established. Is there an altar I did not sacrifice, gods I did not pray to? Stay, at least for your father. If only so I can wake up to see the way you fill him with light each day.

You are twenty weeks old today. If you listen to your mother, listen. Stay, if only for your father. But this time, I will not beg you. If you will stay, stay.

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Nnwa, Remember to Breathe

Nnwa, you would only think it has been a minute if you were not an extension of my existence. And so I am glad that you have no doubt that I have been thinking about you even when it has been a while since I last wrote to you. I am glad I do not have to explain things because you are your mother’s heart.

It is a new, sunny day. I can tell because there’s light streaming through the shutters and I sit on the carpet writing this because it’s always so much easier to think when I’m sitting close to the cold tiles with my back against a mountain of pillows by the sofa’s side. I don’t know why, it just is. Did I tell you there was a monkey on the balcony when I woke up? It had all but eaten all of the butternuts I had thought I would have made soup with by now. So I let him be. It is my fault. I should have made that soup yesterday.

I do not think I will leave the house today. So much to do, so little energy. Also, it’s true – hormonal nonsense gets more real as you get older. And the sun seems jeering. Unforgiving of this dull soul. I do not have the energy to shout it back behind a cloud so I will stay here; where the coolness of the floor seems comforting. No, I am not depressed. I am just drained. Nothing some reading, some tea and some popcorn cannot fix. I will be okay. And I want you to know that when you have this feeling; I like to say it feels like you have been hit by a bus even when that is not an idea I want to send out to the universe. Even then, you will be okay. You will be okay because it’s okay to take a breather and not seek permission for it. It’s okay to stare at the ceiling for hours if that’s what it takes to reboot and it’s also okay to walk into the sunshine and have an outside day if its warmth is what will heal your soul. It’s okay.

It is easy to be overwhelmed in this day. Especially when it seems one always has to have a sense of control even when one knows that it cannot always be. It almost seems like life is becoming a continuous race but only this time, the finish line keeps shifting. I can only imagine how much more so this will be in your time. Don’t run so hard you forget yourself. If I have learnt anything nine months into this year is that we have everything we need even when we think we have nothing. Taking a minute, an hour or a day won’t change that. You will have everything that you need Nnwa. That is why your happiest days will be those before you are taught that there is something more important than being able to wake every morning, being of good health, being loved. Just being.

Don’t run so hard you forget yourself. If I have learnt anything nine months into this year is that we have everything we need even when we think we have nothing. Taking a minute, an hour or a day to breathe won’t change that. You will have everything that you need Nnwa. That is why your happiest days will be those before you are taught that there is something more important than being able to wake every morning, being of good health, being loved. Just being. So when you need to, do not apologise. I was taught that rest is for the feeble. Yet now I know even the gods need to rest, how much more we? I will not lose you to this life Nnwa, remember to take as many moments as you will need. Take some time to do whatever helps you breathe. For we are nothing without the air that fills our lungs.

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Nnwa, What if You do not Come? #1

There can be no children, Nnwa. Not now. Not ever. We have had the tests, we have had more second and third opinions than I care for but nothing changed the diagnosis, they said. They stood there and said there was nothing they could do. Any further treatment would only open us to more hurt and more financial leakage. There was nothing they could do. We figured perhaps it was a matter of faith. Some displeased ancestors or some tied up juju buried under the roots of a tree somewhere. Anything to give us even a sliver of hope. And so there is no altar we have not knelt at, no sin we have not confessed or offering we have not given. But still. Some said that perhaps our faith is weak and cannot be rewarded any divine intervention or that there is still some confessing we need to do – something big, some sin we deliberately forget to tell the man of God. I will not even begin to tell you what that sort of response can do to an already bleeding heart. They have said perhaps we should start thinking about the possibilities of adoption. But even the thought of it feels like a betrayal, like faithlessness. Five years later nnwa, but still, no matter how hard we fight, everything seems to confirm it; your aunt cannot have children of her own.

It is for a man to hope and for the gods to decide. If this is in any way true, then I am afraid. Afraid that although I hope that you will be mine, you may not be mine to have. The bones may be shaken well before they are thrown down, but neither the man nor the ground on which they will fall knows what picture they will paint. What fate they will spell. In that split second, when we all hold our breath, and everything is in mid-air, maybe then will we be able to speak the last of what we will think will skew the move to our favor. But even then, it is not up to us. Not up to me.

I spent the better part of my day yesterday on the phone with your aunt. No, not your aunt – my sister. Another I do hope you will meet. We talked a little bit more than we cried. It was not a yellow hour Nnwa. It has been years of trying to have their own. Something about a complication they cannot find a way around. If ever there was a race for the most likely to be the best at motherhood, your aunt would beat me hands down. Which is why this hurts in a way I cannot describe to you. The thought that this is the life she will have, something we had no way of knowing or preparing for, is hard. Nnwa, I think and pray for you, I plan and think and think and plan. But what if, you are also not meant to be mine? I have never felt as broken as I did yesterday. Now all I think about when I think of you is that maybe you will never be mine either.

It is not easy having to re-dream your life Nnwa. It is not easy being the only white flower in a sea of blue. That is what your aunt fears this will be. A constant reminder that she is not ‘woman enough.’ Whether we plan on having children someday since the time we knew we could because we want to or because it is just how things are done is one of those things we can argue about forever and again. But to have always seen your life pan out a certain way only to be told it cannot – that is cruelty. That is torture. It is one’s children that sit by their hospital beds, and it is one’s children that will carry one’s name. It is how it is, how it should be. It felt like all they said was that your aunt would be the tree without branches amongst even those burdened with more that they can bear. It is not fair. It is not right. Ours is a land where a woman is known by her name only because she is yet to have her child. ‘What will be my name?’, she asks. I cry because I do not know what to say.I am inconsolable, your aunt even more so. Fate has robbed you of your best friend, Nnwa. And there is nothing I can do about it.

It is too early to go for any tests. Not because it is too soon but because I have never been one to go finding things out unless they needed finding. And if I were not to have you, if I too were to have any complications, I would rather not know of them now. I would rather blissfully talk and plan for you. In this instance, I would embrace ignorance. If it gives me the hope that you are mine, will be mine, I will take it. I have seen what hopelessness can do and Nnwa, your aunt, she is strong. I would not survive it. Talk to the Big Oga there for me if you can. I like to think that you are closer to him than we are. Speak to him about your aunt. Ask him to change the way the bones fell. Ask him for a miracle – anything that can make this right. And while you’re there, ask him to let you come to me when the time comes. To come to me, and to stay. I would not survive this life any other way.

You will Love Bear Crawls

Nnwa, as I write this, only my mouth and my fingers are able to move. No, nothing is wrong – nothing at all. In fact, I am happier and more relaxed than I have been in a while. I went to my first Taebo class the other day, and if I had thought your aunt mad for insisting on taking the stairs every day while living on the sixth floor, it is because I had not known madness. Everything ached but the fun we had! You would have loved the bear crawls. I could almost see you scurrying away as your mama pants, laughs and sweats along trying to keep up. We should go someday, and you can be my partner. I had my second spin class today, and I must admit, I was a little low on energy, but I kept at it. I did serve massive amounts of side eye to the guy in the corner because who pedals that fast with maximum resistance? Who? Ah ah! I did not know I could hold a jealous thought for that long. So now I am all over the net searching out ways to keep my energy up, how to beat the resistance and what not because I want some side eye too. See? Appeals to human vanity almost always win.

I hope to keep this up, I really do want to repair my never existing relationship with health and fitness. Yes, non-existent Nnwa because the more I think about it, the more I see that I actually have given very little thought at best to the entire business.

I was born and raised in the ‘Home of Champions’ Nnwa. Everyone and their mother was a runner. Literally. Eldoret back then had its healthy dose of rains but then the second term at school would come, and you could feel the air light up because, at the end of it, we would have our annual sports event. The only reason we came to believe some children had people was that on this one day the track field was green, and everyone’s everyone showed up because athletics was the main sport. The students prepped all term, but the main event was the parents run. Yes, Nnwa, there was a mother’s and a separate father’s race, and I will never forget the sight of these ladies and gentlemen volunteering to go for 100m sprints or full relays because that was when the party started. You did not have to call for volunteers twice. Brown leather jackets were put down, shoes cast away, skirts gathered – this was serious business. The starter would go off, and the running began. See, everyone and their mother was a runner.

I was not particularly good at it, but I made the 100m sprints for a while (until I realised it needed a bra I did not have to keep up with) but even then, only because I had to. Sports and I never had a comfortable relationship. Physical education classes were a bore because you can only run around the field unsupervised, in uncomfortable, mandatory bloomers so many times. No one really told me why – not the ‘exercise is good for you, and that’s that’ version but, really why I needed it even when I did not want it. There was no Google access back then Nnwa (not for me anyway) and the only people that told you things that you needed to learn were your teachers. But they were book teachers. I don’t even think it ever crossed their minds to actually sell the idea behind the PE classes to us or for us to ask and when it did, it was probably a rant on how that time wasted could have been channelled into an extra math class. I can’t help but wonder if it could have been different perhaps if we had discussions on what our bodies are made of and how it all comes together. Talks about different exercise routines and sporting activities – something other than running – and how they build our bodies to function better so our minds would be at their best too. At the end of it all, maybe they would have dangled a carrot – images of what fitness would look on a body ten, even fifteen years from then. And what it would not because if all else fails, appeals to human vanity may just have tilted the scales for a better-adjusted lifestyle. I don’t know if it would have helped Nnwa, but it would have started a conversation that would have been interesting to have at the back of one’s mind every time one hid in the sick bay to evade another games period. One that would have probably gotten us into a habit that would save us from a lot of catch up later.

I think it’s the same with food as a concept. Of course, I knew what food was and what was not Nnwa, but that was basically the end of it. I had a weakly emphasised understanding which went mostly along the lines of ‘don’t eat so many fries and that much of carbohydrates’ but with the offerings always leaning towards different versions of both. I really didn’t think much of it. In retrospect, I don’t think I knew I needed to. It did not help to already have a bigger frame than others Nnwa and a sweet tooth to boot. Having fast foods, snacking on sweet treats and the escape from exercise were just fun things to do. I did not think about this stuff much as I did them because I was a child. I was a kid that ate because I liked to, skipped exercise because I could and didn’t have any concepts to challenge my little self’s understanding of either.

Years later, I am working on rewiring my brain on these matters. You will be here soon, and it would not do to pass on habits that you will later need to unlearn. Not if I can do something about it. I hope we will have a better approach. I don’t think the rising numbers of children affected by childhood obesity are really mostly as a result of suburbia living, fast food culture and the fact that ‘couching’ is now a thing – a major thing. Parents could cut off as much of this and that as they want but without actually teaching the little humans the reasons behind the choices, the effect will only be felt for as long as they were small enough to only eat what you plate. We need to have it go further in the future. Apart from exercise, it is said that diet plays a significant role in the management of health issues, body weight included and I believe the fact that not many children are made to understand what food really is, what our bodies need, what portions are and so forth is really the puppet master behind what we see. What they know first creates a buffer that feeds later, feeds into the habits they form. We can do more than up the vegetables in our menu’s, we can change this story. Nnwa, I am changing mine, so I can change yours and you can change that which will follow.

It is also said that children learn best from what they see. I want us to curl up for a movie marathon and stay at home all day Saturday and I also want you to see me get up for a morning workout, go for walks, maybe even a run. I want you to come with me for some bear crawls some day. I want you to ask why I do these things and I want to know enough to tell you and show you what your body is made of, how your muscles work and what each needs to keep active and healthy. I want you to eat pizza and fried chicken and chips and know that there is so much more. I also want you to try out oats, eat vegetables, salads, lots of fruits and water because you will know what each food gives. You will know it is all about the balance. I don’t want you always reaching out for processed snacks because there is no better option in the fridge or the pantry. I want to know enough to make sure you always have the options you need to make the healthier choice. It has taken a while but when you realise you will literally shape another person’s foundation in life, you really want to be able to give them the best head start you can. That is why I am relearning this now.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Scissors cut paper, paper covers rock and rock breaks scissors. Such meaningful simplicity. The kind you search for many times (several times on Mondays) but never really fully come to again. I miss the ease that was childhood. Although I do recall several times, I believe it was a fearlessly selfish era laced with just enough doses of cute and cuddly to blissfully be self-seeking, unforgiving and indispensable all at once. Oh, the bliss and the tyranny of the free era. With the years comes a weight of thought that is hard to escape from at best. Life is clearly not a walk in the park. Yes, all those lyrics lured us into bubbles that cannot hold in the gravity we live in now.

This lane is not so bad though. The greatest irony I am coming to terms with is that there is no such thing as running from. Only postponing the time it will take to come to full circle. In retrospect, I recall my running phases with a lot of amusement. I am not much of a runner. The few times I have tried to pull off any such exercise have led to devastating effects. Not kidding – I have fractured my foot once, massively sprained it twice and get this –  almost got run over a  couple of minutes after leaving the gym. I kid you not. I should have taken the hint – I am not meant for running. But yet I still do. I particularly remember this one phase where I just kept running from the obligations of religion and all that I perceived to come with it.

See, I grew up in the nineties when ‘revivals’ were in plenty. Though I still do not fully understand what that truly meant (or why just that one word? Why not a declarative sentence right after it? What was a revival anyway?), I knew enough to know it supercharged atmospheres. Caused many a parent to leave their children behind (or worse, go with) to an unmentionable number of church services. If your folks were really into it, your friend list would be reviewed and cut down to the chosen few that were ‘aligned in spirit.’ Revival things. I am not sure I understood much at the time, but it was planted in me right about then that religion was necessary. So important that it had the single unarguable pass to shatter one’s axis and claim one’s attention so much that children grew up unattended or on their own much like weeds would and life continued even in the bursts of one’s absence. So I feared it increasingly until I did what I know not to do, run. And in that time I still thought a lot of what I did not want to become – detached. But as all troubled souls are prone to do, one thing is replaced by another and work was what I poured myself into. The circle was still coming to. I just did not see it coming. I did not see that in running, I was becoming exactly what I did not want to be. I left myself unattended and life, as always, moved on.

From my childhood’s eyes, religion was the problem – but it really wasn’t. I have memories of babysitting myself and watching a massive amount of Oprah. I remember reading through too many books and copies of the readers digests and collecting recipes (Also running up the electric bill with all that experimental baking). I remember being alone a lot but somehow, I do not remember being lonely. I have been ‘diagnosed’ with a dwarfed social IQ by some and a massive by others, so I think it is safe to say it all turned out alright, revival and all. I am now trotting across many lines trying to make a life I can live in, and yes, I do wish I had had more time to spend with my family. Not at revivals, but at home. Learning who they are and just being a child – attended to. Not alone. But I am slow to cast blame because no one wakes up every morning wanting to make the worst out of their days or anyone’s’ at that. One does what one knows to be best at the time.

I am learning that life happens and I can only try to unravel the foundations that underlie mine in the hope that I will understand myself better, and be a better version of me because of it. That is all we have strength to do at the end of the day, no? Rock, paper, scissors – today I got paper, so I cover the rocks and wait for tomorrow. What it will bring, I will use. I will not run; the universe apparently frowns upon it. Do the best you can to learn, to forgive and to keep afloat. It may be hard as hell. Or it may just be as simple as a game of rock, paper, scissors.

You Will Be Enough

You may not believe this, but I have never had many friends. I am friendly with many but friends whose connection last? Those I have always had a habit of having a few at a time.

When I was younger, I was a pretty intense child. Though no longer a child, I think I still am. I always had a lot of what I wanted at a particular point figured out by or for me. Somehow, I still do. I know that may sound strange, but then I have always been a thinker and a bit (okay a lot) of a worrier, and so yes, I kind of always did. I also have always taken life a little bit, well a lot, too seriously; mostly because I heard at a very early age that you only get one shot at it and for someone who always wanted to get it right, I guess many forms of paranoia set in. And because perfection was demanded of me and I successfully delivered albeit most times. But friends and friendship? Those are concepts I came to really understand and appreciate much later in life Nnwa.

In retrospect, I think I lost the idea of these words when as a 4th grader or thereabout, my then teacher asked everyone in my class to write about their best friend – which I did. Only to find out much later, when everyone had to read a bit of his or her essay aloud, that I had written about someone who had written about someone else. I was a bit confused, of course, and now that I think about it, later hurt not because I claimed sole exclusivity of any sort over this human but because the sniggering that followed told me something I had not known before. I was a friendly child that had no actual friends – at least not in the 4th grade understanding of the word.

You see, I was almost always surrounded by people that found me aloof in some way. Perhaps it was even because I always had a brother or two around watching over me and that, I suppose, scared the little humans. Maybe it was because I was almost always buried in a book or too much television and sometimes thought or spoke as though I belonged to other realms or maybe I was just not as good at making friends as I thought. It could have been any of these things or none. I don’t know. I remember wanting to fit in and wanting to be the one with the best friend.

It may be different in your time, but in mine, that was a 4th Grade necessity I thought. I wanted to morph into someone more acceptable. Someone more relatable. Someone they would find worthy. (See? Intense child right there) Maybe then, I thought, I would be that kid. I also remember your grandmother saying to me, often after my rants, that I was enough. Overdrive imagination, stubborn personality et al. That being liked is not something a child needed. All I needed was to know that I was enough she said. To young ears, she sounded like she lacked empathy at the time but I am glad she did not cuddle me to believing otherwise. Because I was just a child becoming many things and to have felt at that age that I needed to sate this natural craving to be liked by everyone saved me from myself. She believed many things, but she did not find that likeable was something I should have strived to be and so I did not. I was kind when shown kindness, smart because I was my parents’ child, tough because I learnt too soon that there are really no teams – I was on my own, and that was okay too.

Much later I began to understand what friendship meant, and I made a few. It was at this time I also learnt that I was doing it wrong in many ways before. I understood that it was not about having someone to write about in an essay, someone or someone to queue on the lunch lines with. I learnt friends were not people that stood by you because they felt, somehow, that they had to but because they chose to. My 4th-grade self-did not know it was a choice. She pretty much figured it was a right that came with the school package I guess. As I grew older Nnwa, I understood myself, understood others, and I have met some rather interesting humans. Some have come and gone, and that’s okay. Their season came and bloomed, and I am forever thankful for that. Some came and stayed. Those ones you will meet. Your aunts and uncles they will be.

I wrote this for you because I will want to give you so much that in doing so I will forget to give you even much more. You will be your mother’s daughter. Perhaps your own will be a more carefree spirit free of thoughts and fears of what lurks in the places we cannot see. Maybe you will be spared the curse of the overactive mind. But then again, you will be your mother’s daughter. So I tell you this: likeable is not something you need to strive to be. Be kind. Be patient. Be honest. Be loving. Have empathy. Those are things to strive for. Be you – you are enough.  The friends will come and go. Sometimes in different proportion. You will have some for seasons and some for a day. So just be, some things you will learn along the way. And one of them is that a lot of stuff top being likeable. And one of them is choosing to be you. Every day.

Yes, Nnwa. Selfish. Be Selfish.

Nnwa, it is said that if you lie down for them to walk on you, they will say you did not lie down flat enough. Nobody is born wise, but it should not take you half a lifetime to realise that you matter. And yes, for you, you should be first.

Selfish. Yes, I said it. Be selfish. Lack consideration of others enough to first consider yourself. Serve yourself first. No matter what the voices will tell you, there is no shame in putting yourself first.

You will be a girl first. And then you will be a woman. All will have to fight many demons in this life but none more than you. When I birth you, they will give me blinkers. They will tell me they are for your own good, blinders beautifully laced, but that will not change what they are. They will say you need them because you are a girl. You may be distracted or panicked by this life, and so you do not to see the side or the rear. They will tell me, and later you, that this or that is because you are a girl. You will be a woman. Therefore you have to be a certain way.

These unsolicited voices will tell you how to walk and who to walk with. They will tell you what you should look like and how you should be because a girl, who will become a woman needs to be a certain way. They will say a girl, who will become a woman many times as though such multiple declarations will stop you from being the shoe you were (unknown to your mother and to you), purposed to grow into.

They will be pleased when you succeed a little or enough. With the same voice cheer and feign pride, they will tsk tsk and say you are too much for a girl who will become a woman. Too loud. Too smart. Too decisive. Too aspiring. Too ambitious. Too feminine. Too much. They will say it with their words and with their eyes, and if they do not say it they will whisper it with their words and with their eyes, and if not, they will whisper it they will write it with their words and with their eyes. Because you are a girl, who will become a woman. And they will invariably say you need to be a certain way.

They will tell you to be selfless. To give of everything you can give because a girl who will become a woman should learn to give selflessly. Give without expecting to receive. It is just what a girl who will become a woman should know to do. They will tell you to do as told because questions about why now or why ever are not becoming of a girl who will become a woman. They will teach you how to say yes so much you will not know to say no is equally as freeing. They will show you a girl who will become a woman should shut her legs, but they will also teach you a woman is only as much as her bottom power. They will teach you to say yes Nnwa, they will teach you to give of yourself without abandon until they also ask why you gave so much, why you never said no. They are the voices. They will say this until they decide to say that.

You my child, will be a girl who will become a woman. And from the time we will have you until the time we will leave, you will be smothered by voices that will say this until they decide to say that because they will say but this is what a girl who will become a woman should be. Nnwa, this is why you should learn to be selfish. Yes, nnwa. Selfish. Be selfish but do not forget if you are filled with pride you will have no room for wisdom. I will not have a foolish child so listen proper Nnwa. You will not be proud or haughty or lack empathy. You will not lack love or happiness enough for you and others. You will be your mother’s child. What your mother is saying is that just as your right hand will be quick to offer to another, it should be ready to first give to your left. Just as you will build others, you will remember that first, always first – you build yourself.

No one will ever claim their neighbour’s house just because they laboured for its foundation. What is theirs is theirs. So even as you give, remember what is yours is yours.  Just as you will remember to love another, you will know to first, selfishly and unapologetically so, to love yourself.

Do not stand in the open fields and let the winds blow parts of you away. Run in the wind, lay in the sun and remember, when it blows it takes. When it shines, it burns. They do so not because they have no heart but because it is who they are. It is what they do. So run in the wind and lay in the sun but cloak yourself so even if some is taken or given, if some is burnt or lost, most remains.

At the end of the day, only you are responsible for you. And building every other at your expense will, like dusk, only heighten the crickets songs about you in the cool. But when the sun returns, they quiet. And you will be alone. What will you dance to if you do not know enough to have had your own song?

You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla. That is why I am writing to you now. Before your ears learn to listen Nnwa, I have told you – be selfish. Concern yourself chiefly with what will fill you simply because in all truth no one else will.

 

 

 

You Will be the Fire.

Nnwa, forgive your mother for her rambling. I would still my tongue if I was confident that when the time would come, I would forget nothing that ever I said I must speak to you of. Forgive me and listen for what you will not need today, you may need tomorrow. You will go through many seasons in this your life. Many seasons. Some will have plenty, others will have lack. Some will be just fine, and others would make a fool wish there would be no tomorrow. It is true what is said, one must learn to live with much and with little. For who is a man to say what his own will be tomorrow? To think fate is one’s friend is to set oneself on the path to an early grave. I wish more for you than that.

I hope you will have understanding, patience and the kind of soul that does not wait for the wind to fan its flames. Because this life is written by many hands. The gods will have their say. So will the voices in the winds and in the earth. And those of men deem themselves sculptors of what they do not fully understand. They will all want to spit and not have it dry because a man’s life, who is to say whose voice it will yield to? Even in these times, Nnwa let not your faith shiver in the cold because what shivers will surely die. Even when moved with great sorrows do not set the world on fire. A fool would burn his mat before nightfall or take a battle against the gods. And me, I will not bear a fool. Of that I am sure. So I beg, listen when you still have ears to hear because a time will come when even my voice will not stir you. Listen now and perhaps when it does, you will have heard enough to remember.

It is what life is for everyone; to have both day and night, both sunshine and rain. It is what it is for every man Nnwa and your own will not be different. But it has always been the reserve of man that which he will do with what he has of each. Decide early enough you will go under, over or through until you get to the next field of air where your soul can breathe until you have to move again. Always decide early because death comes swiftly. Death does not know to knock and give one time to open his own door.

I told you before that I wish you the kind of soul that needs not the winds to fan its flames. If anything nyathiwa, I wish you this. You may not understand your mother now, but she knows enough to know it is the riskiest thing to be set alight but it is not living when you are not burning long enough to be formed of fire herself. For who can burn fire? Not even winter when it comes, and it surely will. Who can stop a soul that burns for itself? Not even magic can tame it. Not even men that think themselves gods.

Perhaps I wish many things for you because I fear. I find myself afraid more than I care to admit. It is strange. This caring of another you have not even met more than you could ever find to care for yourself. Perhaps it is because I fear the very death I have warned you about and yet; still find I wouldn’t mind this dying so much if I knew for certain this to be true. That for a lifetime Nnwa, you will be the fire.

My Madam

Mirror, mirror on the wall; am I, my mother, after all?

Growing up, I always wanted to be just like my mum. To my little eyes, she defined perfection – except of course when I was getting spanked for running off to the neighbour without seeking her consent first (not that I was doing anything at home anyway).

My mum didn’t respond to tantrums; so I didn’t throw many. She believed in loving her kids, bringing them up in the fear and knowledge of God (to my little self, mostly fear), spoiling them when she could and spanking them when she should. And there was always a gift for me under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, there always was that ladybird book or that dress she made.

When I was growing up, mum was always on the move. She was a teacher, still is, a tailor and self-made farmer on the side. I have pictures of me in home knit sweaters and dresses she stitched up herself and yes; I believe growing ‘sukuma’ and keeping a few chicken always comes in handy because it’s the only way I know how. I remember the afternoons she was neither in church or chama, when I had her all to myself, and we’d watch an old movie or read old copies of Readers’ Digests. One of us always fell asleep halfway, and it was the others ‘responsibility’ to fill the other in on how the movie ended.

I’m not so little anymore. I don’t want to be a teacher or a tailor, but I love to read, and I sure do love clothes! I don’t prefer tantrums, I still don’t throw many, but I’ve been known to give in to a few to keep the peace. I still believe in kitchen gardens and keeping some chicken. I still read too much, watch movies and sometimes fall asleep somewhere in between. I believe in Christmas and Christmas trees with gifts from ‘Santa’ underneath because what’s Christmas without gift wrappings and the scent of fresh pine filling the house? I read when I can, even as I eat, and if you stay around her long enough; you’d see that she does too. Best of all, she laughs, and she loves; and of these, I did learn from the best.

Mirror, mirror on the wall; am I, my mother, after all?

Am I growing up into her? No. Pieces of the same fabrics, different quilt all together. And boy am I glad that when I look at her, I see parts of what I will be. Is she perfect? No, she’s human; one human I’m glad I’m almost growing up into.

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Nnwa, it is Sunday…

Nyathiwa, today is Sunday. As I watch mama nani walk into church with her beautiful twins in tow, I cannot help but smile and think of you. I hope you will not be the kind that finds every reason to fuss because I cannot spend your first few months sitting in the back pew and walking out every few minutes. I can’t. But mostly, today I find myself thinking of you and faith and church and God.

I will teach you all I know to share about God, about love and about life. I pray each day they will be one of the foundations of your life. Foundation nnwa, that which you build the rest of your life on. I did not say lock and key. I did not say blinder. I did not say religion. I did not. Foundation, that which you build your life on because you will need a strong one if you are to grow as far as I see for you. I do not know any other stronger than faith.

I would love to teach you colour because contrary to what I may find verses to reinforce, life will never come in black and white. There is a disillusionment that overcomes those that feel that they ‘paid the price’ and have nothing of the life they had bought that I never want you to feel. It is dangerous, this faith business. Dangerous when you see it as currency. Nyathiwa, it is not. It is not. What I learnt with age I want you to learn with words. That is why I will teach you to be connected to faith not because it is a means to an end but because it is a floater that will keep you safe till you get to the shores no matter how high the tides. Trust faith more than people, faith more than community because faith you know will always be there.

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I do not think people separate you from God Nnwa. You separate yourself. Slowly but surely, you separate yourself. Like every relationship that dies, you stop talking, you stop arguing, stop spending time together, and you stop caring. That is when you stop seeing them. Slowly but surely, they fade away, and that is not because people stood in your way. It is because you did. With faith, like with many things in life, do not be afraid to lose your way. Do not be afraid to separate, to doubt and question, to stand in your way, to make mistakes and live a full life. There is no such thing as perfection Nnwa; keep away from such crippling thoughts. You were born to live and to live is to find a little bit of yourself each day and for this, there is no shame. Never blame people; never blame yourself when you need to find a cause in the moments you cannot see God anymore. Move out of your way the same way you stood in it. Find it, wherever it will lead, the same way you lost it. There is nothing new under the sun.

I will take you to church. You will love it when you are younger because you will be that baby everyone fawns over and queues to carry. You will love it when you are old enough to sing and doodle and colour everywhere apart from inside the lines of the 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread-drawn for you. You will love it when you begin to learn the outdoors, and all you’d want is for Sunday school to be over so you can go out and play. Then you will start to think for yourself. To question. There is nothing wrong with that. Then maybe you will not like it so much anymore. Maybe we will fight about it, maybe we won’t. I do not know. All I know is I will need you to know this God. What you will do with that knowledge will be your own. If you are anything like me, you will ask a lot of questions, and I will do my best to help you understand what I can. You will take a faith sabbatical at some point perhaps because you are tired of feeling like you have to suffer to be ‘of the kingdom’. You will lose your way not once or twice, to find it again. When this happens, do not beat yourself up, it is what we call life, and it is okay. Lose yourself again and again until you find that what you need is not religion. You will need more than a belief or a faith system; you will need a relationship. And when you find that to be true, then you will understand why mama said it is a foundation.