EVENTFUL MOTIVATION AT ITEANI

Hi dear readers, I finally come back to my writing after a long break. The break was due to a mission. To be precise, it was a soul searching mission. Did I find my soul, how does it look like? I have no idea, so it’s best not to ask.Enough of the preliminaries, now that I am back let us talk.

Last weekend I was privileged to be part of a group of 5 wonderful people led by the Kenyan Writer Kinyanjui Kombani that went to give a motivational talk to students of Iteani High school at Makueni County. Now I think I have to explain a little bit here. Makueni County is next to the famous Machakos County that has been revamped ever since you know who, became the governor.

So after breakfast at TTOT restaurant (their Samosas are great by the way), we started the long drive to Iteani at exactly 9 a.m. We were expected to be at the school by 9.30 a.m. Sometimes the long route is more convenient.

We decided to take the short one and were treated to a safari of sorts. I lost count of the dried up seasonal rivers we passed. The rough unforgiving terrain was just well, rough. I felt sorry for Kinyanjui’s red car as it hit the rocky terrain and got scratched. But giving the details on that would lose you.

We encountered a group of men looking at something, while one of them was furiously hitting at something. We stopped out of curiosity to find out what it was. “Ni nzoka” _Kamba for “it’s a snake”, one of the men standing by told us casually. Moments later, a snake just about two meters long was hurled out of the grass. Just then, the writers in the vehicles started a discussion about the stories behind the snake killing ordeal.
drawing
We also stopped because we wanted directions. The map we had drawn for us was proving to be too simple, and the directions had to be clarified. Did I mention Google maps? Yes, Google maps proved to be a vital companion thanks to Brian Omino. We finally reached Iteani high school at 12.30 p.m. We felt a tinge of guilt when we were welcomed to breakfast. Breakfast at 12.30, meaning that they waited for us, their guests to arrive before they had their breakfast.

Students at Iteani High school
Students at Iteani High school

After breakfast we went into an auditorium full of about 500 students. We talked to two schools, Iteani boys and their sisters Iteani girls. Bryan Onyino went on to tell the students that they can make it no matter their background. He shared how he at 26, is now a stock dealer in the banking sector. How he stuck to his goals, and talked about goal setting.

I came forward and spoke about peer pressure and how to avoid getting swayed by side shows. I of course could not let this opportunity pass without sharing my experiences as a student, wanting to fit in and loosing track altogether. How during the years of my life, when I was supposed to be building my career, I was busy trying to hide the evidence of the mistakes of my past. I also told them of the second chance that life has given me and a few things that I have done.

Then Muthoni Gatheca Wa, came on stage and shared how at 27, she was already an headmistress. Now she is in the acting industry. She talked about self esteem and her charisma just captivated the audience. She told the students to believe in self and not in other people’s definition of them. She shared how as an actor, even at auditions, one’s ego can be crushed. “Grab that small role you are handed, you never know where it might take you.” She said.
Then Bonnie Kim, the author of 10 books crowned it. He too shared from his school life. It was about time management. He shared of his turning point when he realized that he is alone in the journey of pursuit of knowledge. “Everyone has a personal commitment.” “Those who wake up early now will not have to wake up as early when working.” He said. “Those who choose the comfort of sleep while in high school will be forced to wake up earlier than the rest to go make their lives comfortable at work.” Foolishness is selling a cow only to take another cow to school- Bonnie Kim.
The trainer in Mr. Kombani was evident as he facilitated the whole process. He asked questions and rewarded the students with his books. He even led the students to goal setting for where they want to be. The students decided the school which they wanted to beat. Operation M…. Out. (OMO).
It is amazing how such a remote school can bring out great people in society. Yes, Kinyanjui’s colleague who organized this whole initiative was once a student at Iteani High school. You never know, maybe all that students need is to see and hear from people who have gone ahead of them. It really does not matter which school you come from, you just have to have the determination to make it in life.
The mission at the school ended on a high note and the journey back to Nairobi started in the same fashion. At some point we had to come out of the car so as to reduce the weight for it to pass. Coming back, we only took 30 minutes to Machakos. It was all for a worthy cause and I am ready to do it all again.

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REDEEM THE AFRICAN MAN’S IMAGE

This year’s Kenyan Global Dialogues contest jury process took place on May 9-10 at Oak Place Conference Centre, organized by HIVOS. There were more than 3000 entries from young people of ages 25 and below. The members of the Jury were from diverse backgrounds- journalists, members of the civil society, film makers, academicians and even health care practitioners.

Global Dialogues Jury 2014
Global Dialogues Jury 2014

The opportunity to be part of this great team came for me for the second time by virtue of being a former contestant. I was part of the national winners during the 2008 Scenarios from Africa competition. Back then it was a simple ceremony. Now it has evolved to Global dialogues.

The top twenty entries are going to be adapted into a short film to get the conversation moving. Last year’s competition gave rise to the film ‘Walk with me’- on the issues of disability, HIV/AIDS, sexual violence and secrets that young people struggle with.

A number of the Kenyan entries this year came from primary school children, a good portion came from high schools while a few came from out of school youths. The beauty with this contest is that it is an avenue for young people to express the issues affecting them.

There’s something about writing that is magical. The things that one cannot voice loudly suddenly come to life. This is what we the judges were privileged to read for two days. Some good pieces that made it to the top twenty, some not so good scripts and other ugly ones that were totally misinformed on HIV/AIDS and sexuality.

I had the opportunity to mobilize entries for the contest prior to the judging process. One 16 year old confided in me during the process that they were in love and having sex. The contents of our conversation will not be divulged here. This is just to show that young people need to air their voices in a safe, non- judgmental environment. The early sexual debut is just one of the challenges facing young people.

Another issue that came up in the entries was young people asking their parents tough questions. It was evident that there exists a communication gap between young people and their parents when it comes to matters sexuality. Parents are scared to start the discussion, while young people feel that they are not understood by their parents when it comes to such matters.

The fact that domestic violence is rampant in the Kenyan society could not be overlooked. Several scripts had Female Genital Mutilation, rape and incest. At some point, we were of the opinion that maybe during the mobilization; the notion was created that articles that depicted such gory details would stand a chance in the contest. On second thought, having watched the goings on in the media, I guess the entries were just a mirror of our society.

A thirteen year old girl being defiled by her mother’s lover, a 15 year old girl being impregnated by her ‘pastor’ father who has been defiling her together with her sisters and in these cases, the mothers assist the men in escaping the arm of the law. Who speaks for these teenagers?

Back to the Global Dialogues contest which was dogged by plagiarism. The education system prepares students for exams making them copy to become ‘the best’. This limits creativity and originality. One of the recommendations I have made is that there should be creative writing workshops in schools during the mobilization process. Another great idea by a Kenyan creative author is to have reading time incorporated into the lessons of the school timetable. This will improve the students’ writing abilities.

Deciding the top entries was not an easy feat because all fifteen members of the jury had to come to a consensus. Of course there were lively arguments in support of the scripts which each juror thought deserved to make the cut. That is the result of putting together a team that’s united by one passion- the young people. The winning scripts are going to go through an international jury process.

A parting shot is to our Kenyan men. The wining script was ‘A letter to Dad- my hero’. There are several men who are role models to their families. The few who have developed deviant ways of handling their families should not spoil the image of the African man. We join the young people in the dream of an Africa of positive masculinity.

Even animals protect their young

Rabbit hiding her young ones

Video of young girl covered by Citizen TV

It really is a beautiful thing to find love. Everyone yearns to find love; even I do yearn to find this rosy thing called love. Not the usual kind of love you get daily where everyone tells you they love you, I guess by now you know what I mean. I’m talking about the love that makes people act like a bunch of headless chicken- Not everyone is the keyword here.

It is OK when you are all alone- single without a child. You can survive the heartache of breakup or cheating without much collateral damage. The problem comes when someone is a single parent.

Single parents are people with blood running in their veins. They also have feelings and need to be loved. This is to show my empathy for every single parent. It is not an easy task raising your child on your own. There are very great people in our society raised by single parents- Kudos to all single parents out there. Yes! I am stressing PARENTS here because there are also some few single dads.

Why am I even rumbling? Let me get to the point.

Looking for love is a valid dream, but it should not come at the expense of your child. I was saddened by the report of 15 year old girl who was defiled by her mother’s lover three years ago, breaking her hip bone. What did the mother do? She burned the medical documents and all the evidence. They then eloped with her lover, leaving the eleven year old girl immobilized.

The footage of the paralyzed girl walking with wooden crutches on the rough terrain of their village in Mwingi was moving. It is encouraging that the media stepped in to highlight the plight of this girl, who had her dreams of pursuing her education, were cut short at class three. The next day a follow up story of the girl taken to hospital- Some leaders came forward to take the case. She now has a future, because she was promised on national TV, to be educated through a foundation. (I am deliberately not mentioning names of politicians here, because this is about the girl).

How many children would have to suffer in the hands of their parents’ lovers? Yesterday I read a post by Tyler Perry that the child you have today may one day deliver you. Be careful how you treat your child, you never know who you are raising. It might be the next president.

If you forget everything on this post, please do not forget this. It is not the child’s fault that they were born into a single parented family and they did not apply to be born. They have their rights though, to an education, provision and protection. Even rabbits hide their young in a hole on the ground to protect them from predators. We should learn from them.

Dear Paullette

You asked me the other day how I manage to be bubbly, full of life and always happy. You wanted to know the secret to such a fulfilled life when I am different from others. You said that your kind doesn’t have friends. Oftentimes, you feel alone in the midst of many.

Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I sometimes feel out of place. I am not that confident, sometimes I feel too self-conscious. What I do during those moments is I try to look like I am happy. Sometimes the cares of this life overwhelm me, and I feel none can understand me. Ever heard of fake it till you make it? It really works, you should try it.

Smile when you feel like frowning,
Laugh Out Loud when you feel like crying,
Read or watch something funny if you must,
Just to get that laugh, smile or grin,
You will feel much better, more confident.

It helps to know that no one is perfect. Everyone suffers from those secret insecurities. You don’t notice them because they choose to ignore them. What you focus on, you magnify.

People do not ignore you. They may be too busy to even notice you. Cheer up and initiate the conversation.

I HATE GOODBYES

Photo Courtesy of  http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1265/1395207243_6f1671940d_m.jpg
Photo Courtesy of
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1265/1395207243_6f1671940d_m.jpg
I have found the courage to complete a story I started sometime ago…..
http://julieinspire.blogspot.com/2014/03/i-earnestly-miss-earnest.html

Earnest’s mother came around to look for me. I was always not there because of school. I packed my warm blue blanket, some few utensils and something she could prepare for Earnest’s meal. I then left the parcel with our faithful mama mboga, “give these to my sister when she comes”. She was indeed a sister, we had grown so accustomed to each other. Earnest too, had gotten used to my singing, which announced my arrival.

I checked that evening, she did not come for it. I did not lose heart, I kept checking for the entire week. Finally she picked the parcel a week later.

Then she went missing. She did not have a phone so I could not contact her. I wondered for months how they were doing.

Two months later, she came to visit me on a Sunday. I could not hold my joy when I saw them. They were doing well, despite a one month period of hospitalization. They had just been released from hospital that week. Earnest had developed complications and had to be admitted. Thanks to Blue House MSF, they cleared the hospital bill.

As I was escorting them that evening, the baby whom I had grown fond of pointed a recognizing finger at me, while looking at his mom. Oh! he had grown so much that he recognized me.

That was the last time I saw them together. One month later, I received a phone call from Earnest’s mother. “We have lost Earnest he died in the house”.

All the smiles, all the stares and sometimes the cries. Especially the weird goodbye that he gave me- pointing at me- they all rushed back to remind me of another hero gone too soon.

BLESSING IN DISGUISE?

I get it…. I get it. So it’s that obvious? Today was the nth time I have been stopped by someone to tell me of registration of persons with disability.

First, my dad called me to talk to his visually impaired friend some two years ago. He advised me to go register as one of ‘them’, there were some supposed benefits. I don’t remember detail of what he said. As far as I was concerned, I was normal and did not want anything to do with handouts. I was trying so hard to prove a point- CAPABLE not a BURDEN!

I listened politely and agreed to everything they told me. Later when my dad asked me when I would go to register myself, I told him bluntly that I was not DISABLED. He just put the issue to rest, never to remind me of it again.Hiding Hand

Ever since, I have been stopped by people on the streets….. One time a lady named Grace stopped me and asked me about my disability. She told me that registration would open doors for scholarships and even business. Now that reminded me of an old woman who came to my mother immediately after I got the stroke. She told my mother that I should register with disabled persons so that I get a wheelchair. With this wheelchair, I would then get access to a hawking space in town. Not that I have anything against hawkers. Just that there were so many changes that I was trying to get to terms with.

Then there’s this time that I went to be baptized. Some people came to me at Nyayo Stadium pool entrance. They were part of the paraplegic swimming team. They told me to join ‘them’ and even offered to train me for free. Oh! And I would access the pool free of charge every Saturday morning. I took out my swimming costume, the one that I bought and never used……That’s as far as it went. I never pursued it. Of course my Saturday mornings have been busy with classes.

Today we were walking along Ngong Road with my friend Maryanne. Suddenly two men inside two posh vehicles called us. We looked at each other puzzled, and then looked at the direction of the parked vehicles. The men urged us to go to them. ‘Don’t be afraid, we just want to talk to you”. One was a Caucasian man and the other was a Kenyan. We cautiously approached the vehicles. The Caucasian man asked me if I had prosthetics. He explained that they were both persons with disabilities and were confined to wheelchairs. The Kenyan man showed me a handicap sticker on his windscreen. I became more relaxed. I told them that although I was disabled, I did not have prosthetics.

Using right hand
Using right hand

The Kenyan man then asked me if I have registered with the National Council for Persons with Disability. I said I tried but didn’t follow the process through. They told me to complete the process immediately so that I can apply for government contracts. The government is giving priority to women, young people and most importantly, persons with disability. I ended up thanking them, getting a contact card and promising to follow the process through.

Slanted shoulder
Slanted shoulder
Hiding Hand 2
Good at hiding

I am reminded of my friend and former high school teacher- Mwendwa Marete- Mrs. Obutu. “Use what God allows you to go through for your advantage”. She is just part of the numerous voices that have been trying to convince me to register and get benefits enjoyed by persons with disability.   I now accept I have been locking myself out of opportunities while complaining of not having a job. I would be an employer by now.

WHERE THE PEN MEETS THE PAPER

 

The writer’s academy at Daystar University had its third session on Saturday February 1, 2014. Participants were treated to a cocktail of seasoned authors, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Toni Onita Michama and Alex Nderitu. This week the session was all about developing a good story idea. An idea is defined by the Oxford advanced learners Dictionary as a plan, thought or suggestion especially about what to do in a particular situation.

Everyone who has a conviction that they are writers must have a story to tell. The big question is how do you come up with a story idea, sustain it and remain interesting throughout a book?

Yvonne Adhiambo author of Dust and a Caine Price for African writing winner of 2003 said that you have to kill the voice that tells you it is not good enough and write on. Yes she also goes through similar influences of perfection, probably due to the Kenyan system of education that aims for nothing short of perfect. That’s the reason why it took a longer time to release her first novel which won her the award. Yvonne said that an author needs to hold on to a book until they are satisfied that what they are releasing is satisfactory to them. She also said that ideas are chameleons, so one has to flow with and not be tense about them. You have to let the characters speak and you should get out of the way of your story.

Toni Mochama last year’s Burt Award for Literature winner and among the three African authors to be awarded the Miles Moorland scholarship for writers this year through his upcoming novel about Nairobi in 2063, and a columnist for the Standard Media Group said that we are privileged to live in a country that has a lot of drama happening. From politicians who think that single women should not be leaders to mysterious murders. This stuff, he said is good manure for novels. He also said that publishers do not care about pitiful stories that are told every time in Africa. One can tell a sad story in an appealing way.

Alex Nderitu the E-Books guru and author of innovative titles like Kiss Commander promise and The Moon is Made of Green Cheese said that catchy titles attract the eyes. A book is judged by the cover and title so as a writer; one should avoid boring titles that could send people to sleep. He reiterated the fact that every author has been stressing- a good writer must be an avid reader. He was the first Kenyan author to release an E-book in 2001.

The Creative Academy is the place to be as an aspiring author. Come next Saturday from 8 am at Daystar Valley road Allen Groove campus and let your ideas flow.

 

I EARNESTLY MISS EARNEST

I have suddenly become fixated on babies, as if they feel a growing desire in me to have another one of my own. We all know that that time is no yet. (By we, I mean me, myself and I). Well, I must concentrate on making my life a little better before considering the thought of bringing another life to this world. The first time it was disastrous… but that’s not the story for now.

So in June 2012, I met this mother who had been rescued from the streets by a kind member of our church. She was not really a street mother; she was actually standing in the rain outside the gate to their court at Kariobangi South Estate. She had a baby, without an umbrella and was looking for a kibarua- casual job of laundering clothes. This woman- the church member, was overtaken by compassion and invited her for a cup of tea at her house.

The rest are details. Long story short, I found her living in the lady’s house. Her baby was sickly and from how he was breathing, I could tell that he needed urgent medical attention. The mother did not look any better. She was also coughing and her dark skin looked pale. Now I know this is wrong, but I seized the opportunity to share that the baby was breathing abnormally, just like mine before he died. I talked to the mother and she opened up to me. She had been tested and found to be HIV positive during her ante-natal clinic. I suggested that we take the baby to Blue House Clinic the next day. Blue House was a Comprehensive Care Centre run by Medecines Sans Frontiers- France.

We went to the hospital the next morning and after a myriad of tests, baby Earnest, 9months, was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. No wonder he looked like a three month old or even younger. I couldn’t stand it just seeing the doctors pocking through his skeletal hands and feet looking for veins to draw blood from so as to get his blood work underway. He cried till he lost his voice in the process. The things mothers do to innocent babies in the name of denial of their HIV status. But this was not the time to point accusing fingers. What had been done could never be reversed. Our priority was saving baby Earnest. After that long day, I left the three (Earnest, his mother and their hostess) to go back home with a cocktail of drugs, while I went to school for my evening class.

Earnest

Two days later, the hostess asked me if I could take over hosting her guests because her husband was not comfortable having her around their children. They had five children, two of whom were equally young and they feared chancing infection with TB. So in the midst of mixed feelings of anger toward her hostess because of the sudden subtle stigma, and compassion for the young baby, I took in the two.

My heart may have overtaken my mind, because I was bringing them to a single crammed room, which was already bursting with my books everywhere. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a job. I comforted myself by the thought that where there’s a baby, lack is a rare visitor. God would provide. He sure did provide.

After two months of living with them. Baby Earnest had started looking like a baby, not scrawny as I first saw him. He together with his mother had been started on ARVs and were adapting well to the drugs. His mother was even back to looking for the vibaruas- odd jobs of washing clothes. Luck was on her side, because she always came home having gotten at least two hundred shillings. I advised her to start buying things and we started hunting for a house for her.

The responsibility of providing for a mother and her baby while I didn’t have a job, was weighing me down. One day, I just told her to go back to her former hostess because I could not manage hosting them. I gave them two hundred shillings (I wish I had more, because I could have given it), prayed for them, then sent them away, with my younger brother Clinton escorting them- they had luggage to carry, so my brother came in handy.

They were not received by the former hostess. She went to Korogocho slum, and found a cheap room, at 800shillings. The land lady was kind enough and accepted half of the money, as she looked for the balance.

To be continued…..

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