Society

Who Do We Fight For?

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The Storymoja Ideagasm this past weekend was one that left me thinking. As I boarded the ‘City Hopper’ bus heading towards Ngong road I had a lot of questions in my head.

I label myself a defender of women’s rights. A feminist. But who exactly am I fighting for? Do the people whose voice I claim to be, need my voice? Am I helping them or am I making their lives difficult? Or could it be that I am just helping myself?

I reached my destination close to 8pm in the evening. My family had all assembled at my sister’s house for dinner and all were wondering where I was. I explained that I had gone for a Storymoja thingy. ‘Thingy’ because you only give my mother a word like ‘Ideagasm’ when you have a couple of hours to kill explaining what you mean.

“Story moja huh? I will give you my story moja,” my mum promised me.

She honored her promise a few hours later after we had quenched our hunger and thirst. She started on a story about monsters who devoured some woman whose husband used to work far away in the city.

“Tell me about FGM.” She was leaning on folklore while I wanted the real stuff.

“FGM?” she asks

Kalenjins practiced FGM right?”

“Sure! We practiced FGM.”

She then told me a story. Her Story moja.

Back in the day, when a girl was considered old enough for marriage, she was circumcised and yanked into (Ok, maybe they gently tossed her with sympathy given what she had just gone through) a hut where she was to live for some time as she was fed and healed. She was thereafter, ready for marriage

It was, however. not uncommon for a man to ask for a girl’s hand in marriage and even settle the bride price while she was still in seclusion – I guess demand was high with some girls? Seclusion could take anywhere from one month (which was ideally the time required for her wound to heal) to one year. ONE YEAR! My reaction to this was: “Ile ne?” which was the closest Kalenjin words I could come up with for “What the hell?!” A whole year!? January, February…the whole 12 months?!

My mother patiently waited for me to get a grip before going on.

Should a man come and ask for your hand in your absence, your parents only had to say yes to the cows and you would be his wife when you were well enough to be someone’s wife. After healing from the mutilation, you would pack your bags and go to a man your parents had ingeniously selected for you. You had to believe that they had your best interests at heart and did not just dispose you off to spend your lifetime with a jerk just because he offered the highest bid.

One year! Forgive me, but I am still stuck on the one year seclusion.

My mum then told me the story of this specific young girl who went through pretty much the same ordeal. While this girl was inside the ka-hut, healing the wounds in her nether regions, wondering all the while about her future with her husband and the many children she was going to bear him – what else could she ponder about anyway – a man came along and asked for her hand in marriage. She was to make a technical appearance during the negotiation of bride price. A deal was struck and from that moment, she was considered the young man’s wife. She was fed and fed some more. She grew healthier and healthier (the word I really want to use is ‘fatter’ and ‘fatter’) for her prospective husband.

While still serving her time, something happened to the young man who had been pronounced her husband not so long ago. He was arrested for cattle rustling. Hehe…I laughed hysterically at this point, don’t know why I found this so hilarious. Young girl in seclusion, young man arrested for cattle rustling. He was to serve 5 years in jail. The young girl waited (faithfully) for this man she barely knew to get out of jail and come and take his place in her life.

Thing is, cattle rustling was an ego booster and it put a stamp on one’s manhood in a big way. Having been arrested, the young man held a lot of clout in the community. Time went by and the young man’s mother, now living with the young girl – her daughter in law – realized that time was running out. The young man’s mother knew that being the ish, one wife was not going to do him any justice. She therefore did what any mother would do at the time. She mobilized a bunch of elders to betroth another woman as her incarcerated son’s second wife.

I know!

They visited a certain family, whose daughter she had eyed for a while, I don’t know…weird? They proceeded with the bride price negotiations. This other woman was to be circumcised as well, and so she served her time in seclusion having become the second wife to the jailbird.

“It was nothing really. This happened all the time.” My mum said. Men could ‘marry’ another wife while their (first) wife was still healing. It’s not like he needed the first wife’s approval or anything.

Suffice to say that when the young man eventually got out, he was presented with two very healthy (ahem!) wives. Voila!

That young jailbird man was my maternal grandfather (RIP), and the young woman who had a co-wife shoved down her throat was my grandmother. My grandfather later added another wife to make three and they all lived their happily ever after.

This story from my mother told in a jovial, carefree mood did not do much to quell my thoughts about the ideagasm we had had that afternoon. I wondered, did these women feel oppressed at all? Did they know any other way of life? If not, who then decided that things needed to change and why?

I frowned, gasped and almost popped my eyes out unbelievably as I listened. It did not make sense to me that a man would ‘stock up’ on women just because he had the means. And that the same women were like pawns in a man’s world.

I wondered. When we fight for women, when we protest against certain ‘injustices’ as we see them, are we still doing so for that woman who is ok with having a co-wife because she believes that men are naturally polygamous? Are we still fighting for that woman who looks forward to being battered by her husband because then it will mean that he loves her? When we insist on having our voices heard, does that voice include the voice of the woman who lives for BDSM? If we fight for all women alike aren’t we infringing on the rights of those who have taken the face of oppression and made it part of their identity? Are we denying some woman her right to a co-wife? To a black eye, which according to her is a medal of love? Her right to sexual pain pleasure?

Still, I wonder.

 

First published on the Storymoja Festival Blog

He Cheats On You Because You Are *His* Wife.

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We need to come up with a list. Yes! A list of excuses for the other man. You know, the man who cheats on his slim, fun, adventurous (perfect?) wife? It isn’t fair to provide excuses for the fat woman’s husband, and leave the other husbands hanging. This borders on discrimination, if you ask me.

The man with a fat wife is taken care of courtesy of the article written by Njoki Chege on why men cheat. He can now sit pretty, have his cake, eat it, and have another one. The missus might come up to him, all crushed, teary-eyed, asking “Honey, why would you cheat on me? What does she have that I don’t? Why would you do this to me after everything that we’ve been through? I’ve been there for you bla bla bla ….”  Normally, he would be beside himself fumbling for words to explain away his despicable actions.

Oh, but not today!

Today, all he has to do is lift his heavy frame, protruding tummy and all (he’s been eating loads of cake, remember?) and walk briskly towards his special cabinet where he keeps his treasured reading material. He adds a spring to his step as he whistles the song;Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera… Guan-tana-meeeera, guajira Guan-tana-mera… He will take out the key to the cabinet from a bunch in his pocket and open it. Slowly, without saying a word to the fat, sniffling wife standing in front of him, he will remove THE precious newspaper sitting atop some playboy magazine. He will grab the paper with both hands and give it a kiss. He will open the page with the words “LADIES: It’s all your fault that he is CHEATING!” scrolled across the page and he will give it another bigger, wetter kiss. They should get a room right? Smiling, he will hand it to his sobbing wife. “It’s all in there, dearie. The answers you seek are all in there” he will pat her on the back sympathetically; lips pursed, and leave her to it. She will read the article from beginning to end. She will stop asking questions.  Her husband will go back to eating his cake. Having it. Gobbling it. Growing fat. Obese. Nobody cares if he is fat. No one will cheat on him because he is fat!

So things are cut out for that guy. Lucky bastard!  What about the one with a slender, slim, beautiful, high-heel donning, gym-attending, fun-loving wife? What is he supposed to say when he is caught cheating? Who will speak for him when he is faced by his angry wife? Doesn’t he have a right to some excuses too? Well, I think he does! I think we should give him some material to hand his wife too. In all fairness people. In all fairness!

It’s not going to be easy though. This woman hits the gym on the regular, dresses to kill, loves to have fun. She is a busy career woman and has no time to nag or keep tabs on her husband. She gives you your space and you (unbelievably) get to do you! She will be a tough one to crack. What to do… what to do? There sure must be something about her that is not right. Think people. Think!

I suggest we make this as brutal an attack as the one we did on her ‘imperfect’ counterpart. Where we called the other woman fat, we will call this one skinny – a pack of bones, if you like. Where we said that she stuffs her face like a pig, we will say she is an irritating nitpicking nibbler. We will focus on her obsession with beauty and fashion. We will point out how superficial she is! She is so vain, we will insist. Like, who the hell does she think she is?

Let’s do this people. Let us accord the ‘perfect’ wife’s husband the same courtesy we so graciously granted the fat, boring, nagging wife’s husband, shall we?

LADIES: It’s all your fault that he is CHEATING!

  1. You are too thin. A man wants to hold some flesh when he touches you, not to outline your skeletal framework. African men like voluptuous women. A woman with a well rounded behind drives her man crazy, haven’t you heard? Sadly you don’t have that. Can you therefore blame him when he cheats? Here, wipe your tears and munch on this chicken drumstick.
  2. You make your man insecure with your good looks. When you walk down the street, men stare at you like you are still single, disregarding the ring on your finger. Men are waiting to pounce on you…you drive him to cheat.
  3. You don’t act like a married woman. You still insist on having fun. Always coming up with ideas on where you should go for holiday, for dinner every Wednesday? Why don’t you grow up and gain some sense of responsibility? Your children are in school, so think school fees! Think mortgage payments! Think retirement benefits! Having fun ended with singlehood so get with the program!
  4. You have too much to say about everything. You should chill a little. Let your man be the man, you know? Talk less. Let’s see you more and hear you less.
  5. You don’t even call him to check up on him when he is out with the boys?! Do you even care about this husband of yours? Other women nag, but you just don’t care! If he cheats on you, it is because he wants someone who needs him.
  6. Look at what you wear. Should we even go there? You don’t dress like a married woman! That dress is too short, for chrissake! Stop exposing your cleavage! And you wonder why he cheats on you? You embarrass him with your slutty dressing. What do you want to achieve? You want his friends to hit on you? You want to attract the attention of other men? You whore?! (Too harsh?)
  7. Ask yourself woman; what is he supposed to do when you are out there living your life like he doesn’t exist? Cheat? Well…

I believe that all bases are covered on matters infidelity, don’t you? Should any man feel left out probably because he is unsure where to categorize his wife – maybe she is slightly fat or slightly skinny – please understand that it was not our intention to make you feel that way. We however beg that you don’t despair. The bottom line to all these excuses is in this one statement:

‘He cheats on you because you are his wife’- Use that. Remember to milk it dry.

Now please pass this list urgently to any man out there who is married to the ‘perfect’ woman.

He will need it soon.

 

First Published on the Storymoja Festival Blog

You are an Alcoholic

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It starts with a kiss (doesn’t it always!). Your lips touch the glass (or bottle) with naïve curiosity. You take a sip and taste the liquor on your tongue. Doesn’t taste so good, you think. You wonder what the fuss is always about. You feel it burn your throat slightly as it makes its way to your stomach. First mouthful down and you still don’t get it. You take another sip and another. Telling yourself that there must be something good about it, else it wouldn’t be so popular. Soon the glass, bottle, is empty. You are not the same person. Now you get it.

You are a young man at the prime of your life. You are doing well financially; you have advanced your education well enough to get a good job. Your career is headed just where you want it to be heading at this stage in your life. There is a house, a car and women to boot. This is life as you imagined it. Beautiful. Life = Good!

Then you see her in some club one night. You are out with the boys and didn’t expect to find her here. As you start to walk towards her, you see from a distance that she has company. It’s a guy. Probably a guy from work, you give her the benefit of the doubt. The guy is carrying two drinks in his hands and offers her one as he plants a kiss on her cheek. Ok? People kiss other people’s cheeks all the time, nothing wrong with that. You continue walking towards her. She hasn’t seen you yet. The club is full and you are busy squeezing through drunken men and women to get to her. She accepts the drink from the guy from work and places it on the table with a smile. She then cups his face in her hands and kisses him, not on his cheek, but full on the mouth. You must be seeing things. You stop walking, blink repeatedly. The kiss is still ongoing. It is a deep, tongue-sucking, saliva- fusing, disgusting, nauseatingly endless kiss. Your world comes to a stop. He is not just a guy from work!

You could have done anything for that girl.

Lucky, you have your drink.

You are doing so well. Chasing paper like no one’s business. And what comes with money? The honeys! (You saw that right?)There are so many women out there! You wonder where they were hiding before you made it big. They are throwing themselves at you. They smile at you when your car is stuck on a traffic jam. They wink at you all over the place. Part their legs for you to get a good view. Some touch your arm. How does anyone get anything done in this city, you wonder.  You are weak. You cannot control the burning desire in your loins. You succumb to passion.  And re-succumb. Again and again. To the smiler, the winker, the leg-parter and the arm-toucher. Your girlfriend finds out. She leaves your ass. You loved her to death. To hell with her!

You have your drink.

You are convinced that yours is a marriage from hell. Your wife is ever complaining and is too clingy. How she survived before you came into her life, for the life of you, you cannot understand. She checks up on you every five minutes when you are not with her. Every five frigging minutes!

Honey, where are you?

I’m watching football (playing pool… whatever)

When are you coming home?

I’ll be there when I’m there, ok?

What is that supposed to mean?

It means I will come home when I come home woman! (Damn! I wear the pants, don’t I?)

Silence. She disconnects the phone. You know she will call back again shortly and you almost smash your phone at this thought. Only that it’s a Samsung Galaxy. It cost you an arm, a leg and then some. Let’s not be stupid now.

Go ahead. Have a drink.

You’ve waited for this day since forever. Your boss promised you a promotion at the end of this financial year. The day finally comes but all you get is an apology: Ken, I’m sorry but we saw it better to promote someone with a better understanding of the company given their past client history. You will be considered next time. Wait, someone with a better understanding of the company? Who had a ‘better understanding’ than you? The person in question has only worked for five years in the company. You’ve put your life on hold in order to serve the same company for eight good years. What you are not being told is that you do not carry the right surname to qualify you to hold such a key position. Your name betrayed you. You get nothing for the eight years you’ve worked late nights. For working on weekends. For missing your son’s school thing. And many other school things for that matter. You’ve never been there for your little man’s birthday-he is turning seven in a month. Your missus left you – said she is better off single because even while married to you, she felt like a single mum anyway. All these for what? No promotion! In outrage, you quit your job. You have never felt so useless in your life. Now you have no job and no family.

Thankfully, you have your drink.

Your brothers are fighting you left right and centre. Don’t call me brother they insist. Step brother is what you are. Your father is dead now. You and your mother don’t belong with this family. This is the first and only family. The first wife is the legitimate wife. Second wife my foot! Your inheritance my foot! Your rights be damned! You are broken. You don’t know how to help your mother overcome her loss. You mourn. Both for you and for her. Misery has set camp on your doorstep. You have lost your father and your inheritance.

You thank God that you still have your drink.

Maybe you are a young stay at home mother. Married to a rich oil tycoon. Wenye wivu wajinyonge, you tell your haters while flashing deuces. You give your best to your tycoon. But he is not bothered. He has other women out there and you know it. He gets upset easily. Though you work extremely hard not to upset him, you always seem to get on his last nerves. The blows rain on you every single day. It’s your fault, you believe. You have a knack for upsetting him even when it would do you well not to. You are a pitiful sight. You have a broken nose and a black eye.

You also have your drink.

You are an alcoholic. You feel invincible. No matter what life throws at you, you will always, always, have your drink. It’s in your refrigerator, your kitchen cupboard, medicine cabinet, bedroom drawer, the desk cabinet in your office. It never leaves your side. It is safely tucked in your blazer’s inner pocket or your trouser’s back pocket.

Your drink is loyal. It comforts you. It calms your mind. It helps you deal with heartbreak, difficult marriage, joblessness, death. All those suckers of life.

It controls you. It owns you.

You want to break free but your cry for help is veiled in words like “I can stop drinking whenever I want”

No. You cannot. You are an alcoholic.

You need help.

 

First Published on the Storymoja Festival Blog