Extraodinaire Extraodinaire


Give me a sign,

I want to believe

-          Panic at the Disco, Mona Lisa

Kenya continues to be an idea that we cling to, a hoping. We whisper, “but we’ll be fine, this is Kenya.” Levels of ‘okay’ create themselves. The range of things we are comfortable with decreases. A poet is harassed. A filmmaker is arrested. A bulb explodes. A car loses control. Bloggers disappear. A Party is cancelled (#MakeItTsunami). More guns. Histories are sanitized.

Something is happening.

“What you failed to realise is that you are like a grain of sand. And the world is like a wall. And no matter how hard and how many times you flung yourself at it the change you needed was larger. “

-          Lacuna

What does it mean for Kenya to be ‘okay?’ How many deaths do we count to be in the ‘okay’ region? Lamu remains under curfew. The government refuses to let a fishing town out at night – it is ‘for their own safety.’ Somehow this is meant to mean something. Somehow we are meant to hear this and feel safe.

 They were



but at least

they had

their socks on.

 I’m reminded – constantly – that Kenya is not as bad as.

Not as bad as Syria. Not as bad as Uganda. Not as bad as America. Notas bad as me. Not as bad as hurt. Not asb adas.

Not asbadas. Not asbad as. Nota sbadas. Notasb adas. No tasb adas. No tas ba das. Notasbadas.

There is no way those letters, in that order, make sense. No matter how you space them. Still they show up in conversation with an “aha!” behind them. Invoking histories of justifying oppression.

It becomes harder to write

 “people are dying.”

When what you really

want to write is “I am dying.”

I’m wondering how many more times I can write about disposability. How many variations for “no person is disposable” can one possibly come up with? How many times does it have to be said before it will be heard? On twitter a friend asks people to care for their activists. On facebook another stops writing. Breaks are taken. “Tired” show up more often. #KasaraniConcentrationCamp is untweeted. Shouts become whispers, become thoughts. Silence dawns.

Something is happening.

Unbecoming in Staccato

Somewhere in the darkness

he dropped his pen

and no one has seen him


I’ve wanted to return to the beginning. But that just leads to the questions “where did it start?” and rarely ever follows through to “How can we stop it?” Gukira writes about living in the embers of Banning Kenya:


“Any intact system, no matter how dormant it seems, can always be re-activated.

Re-activation is key to one of Foucault’s key concepts: docile bodies. Docile bodies are not passive bodies. They are disciplined bodies, efficient bodies. Bodies that “turn” when called, as Althusser argues.”

 The beginning never left us.


Every new beginning starts from some other beginning’s end

-          Third Eye Blind

Persons unbe(gin?).

Were they?

The ship of Theseus stays with me. At what point were people undone?

The diary of a mad Kenyan woman talks about unpersons:


This is to say to persons who are here: You are not here.

You are not permitted to be here.

You are un-here.

You are un-persons.

A filmmaker is arrested. His film does not reflect “Kenyan values.”

I laugh with a friend “I am not Kenyan. ” He replies “What does it mean to be Kenyan though?” Identity, I have been told, is impossible.  I wonder which people are impossible.

(a man’s fragile masculinity stops him from walking in the make up aisle in a supermarket. The “hurry up babe” to the lady he is with is laden with shame, “what if somebody sees me?”)

They hid themselves

from the sun

in my mother’s oven.

Baked at gas mark 8

for 3 hours

and set in the window to


(eating warm

cookies will make

your stomach hurt)

Women are unhomed. People are unhere-d. Three little birds sit on my window.

They have no answers

Body homes are raided.

(can that which is not have a beginning?)

Body home owners fight back.

(what unit of measurement is used to measure being?)

Another friend plans a party, #MakeItTsunami.


Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, I can change the world – usinibore!

-          Just a Band

I try to write. Sentences seem inadequate. Instead the words come in starts and stops. As if afraid of scathing my fingers as I type. Still, I struggle. Syllable by fucking syllable.

Am I possible?

Ignoring this is easy. Answering it isn’t.

Ocham’s razor dictates I chose the former.

A filmmaker is arrested. His film doesn’t reflect “Kenyan values.” A whisp of smoke rises into the night sky. The moon basks me in borrowed light and a friend plans a party.

(Somehow, we will survive this place)

Going Home

“Our bodies are our first homes. If we are not safe in our bodies, we are always homeless.”

-          Shailja Patel

The idea of “home” is one that I’ve thought about a lot. What does it mean to be at home? How does the structure of the home create/protect the people who reside within the home? I’ve never really felt at home anywhere. There is a certain dis ease; a not belonging, that I find in almost every space I’m in. Small things (that’s my spot, don’t touch that, where did you get that) remind me that I’m not home.

I’m at home in my body. Sometimes I get lost within myself. Many times I get lost within myself. Sometimes music does it, sometimes poetry. Sometimes it is life that happens it pulls me away from wherever I am and into myself.

I hate coming back from those trips.

I hate leaving home.

Kenne writes:

Safe spaces are important for everyone. Everyone has a place where they go to for the sake of their own wellbeing. In Kenya, where violence abounds everywhere we turn, we go to these spaces for peace, to collaborate with others, to sustain ourselves. Women especially need these spaces because of the pall of patriarchal and anti-women violence – physical, mental, sexual and ideological – that informs many of the spaces meant to contribute to our freedom and self-actualisation.



You have been told to become smaller.

That the things you expect,

no one can give.

That happiness is

two steps

a broken tricycle

6 missed birthdays

4 unwritten poems

and a lonely tear.

That desire is a cat

tame on the outside

but ferocious on the inside.

You must keep your pussy

in check.

Smaller still,

they insist.

You have folded yourself

to conceal,



(not your fault,

this is not your fault

they are not your fault)

You have followed the

rules, and now,

you sit;

steadily racking days into

the past


to die.

Tony Mochama groped Shailja Patel.

This is what you have been waiting to hear. Already your mind is asking questions “did it happen?” “were you there?” “what personal vendetta do you have against Tony?” “Why didn’t you stop him?” Already your mind is doing all it can to absolve Tony. If, even a small bit of the blame, can be moved onto someone else. Then, yes, let’s do that. There is a shifting of focus.

I’m reminded that the second Tony said he wasn’t there everybody believed him. “How can we know” “but she says” “who is” etc were not questions raised.


When a bullet

ends 14 years

of a heart’s work

why do they call it

cardiac arrest?

You ask yourself

these questions.

No one answers.

The abyss echoes back

“how many times,

must you die

before you learn?”

Kwekwe Mwandaza was murdered by the police.

In the still of the night police stormed a house and shot her, a 14 year old, point blank. According to their story she wielded a panga, ready to attack at any moment. Because if 8 men stormed your house in the middle of the night you wouldn’t reach for your panga. Because 8 trained police officers couldn’t contain a 14 year old with a panga.

Because, for the police, death is easier.


perhaps insisting to exist

is part of your revolution.

The world wants to destroy you

but you refuse to die.

Instead you stand

“I am here

I will always be here.”

They laugh

and continue to cut grass

“yes, you will.”

I’m thinking about the continuing menace in Liz watching her rapists cut grass. The re-living that she had to go through over the next few months. I’m worried about her sitting, watching her back. I fear for her.

The police were never an option though – were they?

Still, people went.

“Let us stand with all victims and survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Let us create a society where sexual violence is unknown and unimaginable.”

-          Shailja Patel



you try to sit

but the scars

on your back insist

that you stand.

You try to stand

but the scars

on your feet

also refuse.

So you lie,

flat on your stomach,

face down,

lips parted,

silently screaming

into the earth.

And then you hear the


22 million voices

silently screaming

into the earth.

You are not alone.

I come back to who we allow to be safe at home. While the home has been romanticized as a place of solace, of comfort, I’m reminded that home has always been a battle ground for many women. A place of physical and emotional abuse. A place of unappreciated work. At a protest march a chant is started, “our bodies are not your battle fields.”


who will listen?

Taking Up Space

Bibi mgani huyo *3

(which wife is that)

Anataka nipike chai

(who wants me to make tea)

Sufuria nimenunua

(I’ve bought the pan)

Kichungi nimenunua

(I’ve bought the sieve)

Ketepa nimenunua

(I’ve bought ketepa)

Anataka nipike chai

(yet she wants me to make tea)

The patriarchy actively teaches/recruits/persuades.

This is something that we know to be true. The song above is sung often. Mainly by drunk men during social events. While it is sung (as I’m sure many comments will show up to say) “all in good fun” it’s also a song that heavily reminds us of gender roles.

There are many more songs.

There are many worse songs.

We sing them anyway.


Matter is anything that has mass and occupies space

-          Science

The more accommodating you are the less space you have to take up. The less space you have to take up the more you have to accommodate

-          Sara Ahmed


Sometimes taking up space could be as radical as you could possibly be. Existing, within a system could be to challenge the system.

Bodies swell.

A friend tells me about his tactics to get ladies to sit next to him in buses. He swells whenever a man walks by. He takes up space and, by taking up space he send messages of acceptance/denial. Taking up space is one of the most obvious tools of othering. Think of how men will completely swallow up the conversation when in a room. Taking up space can be defined here by raised voices, animation, interruption and interaction.

Obviously the response could be “they could have spoken up at any moment,” as if somehow accommodation is something that can be demanded.

(and once accommodation is demanded words like “bossy” and “aggressive” start to show up)

People who “matter” are given more mass and space than others in a room. This extra space must be taken from the finite amount of space available. If a conversation is set to go on for 3 hours and 2 people decide to dominate an hour and a half of that it would mean that the other people involved in the conversation have less time to share amidst themselves.

Of course the people who will have the space taken away from them would then be the “others.” I use taken away because, often, the process of othering is violent and oppressive.


Bibi mgani huyo?


With this I’m taken back to the wife in the song. The wife that we sing about in her absence. Which wife is that? The song carries an absurdity to the question. As if it is something that can’t happen. In her existence she doesn’t exist. Even as we sing about her we will not allow her to take up space. She is an anomaly an other. Any wife hearing this would here the caution. The “such women don’t exist, don’t be the first.”

Othering comes in many forms and sizes.

It’s also a cautionary tale to men. Don’t let her. You are a provider not a provider. Do the things you must (and as the song varies, the lists are very specific) and she must then follow suit in some way. Within this even the man who might think different is othered. Not as violently and as distantly as the wife but is othered. At this point it is upon the man to say, but I have that wife and there’s nothing wrong with it (or I don’t have that wife but I still find nothing wrong with it).

This would be to be a killjoy…

…which Ahmed reminds us might be the entire journey of feminism.

P.S. As I write this the demolitions in Kibera remind me of how literal the idea of taking up space could actually be. Find out more with #KiberaDemolitions on Twitter.

Count the Bodies

Wycliffe Nyamweya was murdered.

A few weeks later Kwekwe Mwandaza was murdered in her home. She was shot in her bed after armed men stormed their house with guns.

Both murders were carried out by the police.

“five suspected gangsters were gunned down

they are suspected no more”

-          Something Quite Unlike Myself

I’m tired of writing about death. More particularly, I’m tired of writing about a state that is methodically killing its citizens. I’m tired of shouting into the world that human life is worth valuing. That a life is a life is a life is a life.

It gets harder to find new ways to argue this out. Instead I send out the same links. Use the same sentences; insist.

The police insist that Kwekwe, the 14 year old girl attacked them with a panga. That 8 officers, presumably trained, could only stop a child with a panga by shooting her in the head.

In Ferguson, black disposable bodies continue to be disposed.

In Gaza, bombs continue to drop.

In Nairobi we are given dead bodies and told they are thieves.


Something is happening in the world.


The word is security. This is the imagination shutting word. The thinking stopping word. The “I did it for you” word. The “how else can we protect you?” word. It is the word that keeps us silent.

I tell a friend in passing, if they shoot me – you know people will believe I actually was a gangster. He agrees. It’s easier to imagine that the people who are being shot have done something to deserve it. This is a more comfortable version to tell ourselves.

It’s not true though.

We know it’s not.

We know, because we know, that the police have been killing unarmed people all over the country for the longest time. We know, because we know that a large number of these killings are unprovoked. More importantly we know that the people who die from this violence are lives that we have already decided to devalue, to dismiss.

Wycliffe Nyamweya, Kwekwe Mwandaza and others were murdered. Their killers are still at large. And we’re doing nothing to stop them from killing again.