Extraodinaire Extraodinaire

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.


Drive up the highway. Think to yourself “I really hope I don’t miss the turn.” Get to the market. Think about illegal housing and how such places have been torn down. Think about disposable people. Keep driving. Reach the flyover. Look for the turn.

Miss the turn.

Go further up the highway. Look for a turning coming back down. find it. Come down. See the little footpath that leads under the bridge through the break in the wall. Think about how people adapt to make unlivable situations livable. Find the turn.

Make it.

(If you are making this trip by matatu even better. Miss the stage. Alight at the next stage 100 m away. Walk back down. See children running barefoot in the market. See basins, sieves, lanterns, sweaters and tomatoes on sale. Count cars. Get lost in the music you’re listening to. )

Up, at the place where the flyover meets the road,  ask the taxi guy for directions.

“ukienda mbele, endelea hadi uone left.

Chukua alafu utapata polisi.

Wachana nao.

Teremka kidogo utakuwa umefika”

Follow the directions.

Get lost.

Ask a watchman for directions.

Get lost again.

Panic. Imagine that everyone is there and the food is almost done.

Call and ask for directions.

Get lost again.

Despair. Wander around aimlessly. Ask the watchman next to you “Kenya  iko wapi?”

“Ndio hii.”

Walk through the gate. It’s the sixth gate on your right.

Does it Hurt?

She shivered

“The pain is there

but I can’t feel it.”


warm breath misted

the window.

It’s been days since I read a discussion about #KasaraniConcentrationCamp. There is a thing that is broken inside us. I have written about this before. The numbness bothers me. The refusal to feel the pain of this removal. Instead we look for causes halfway across the world.

“Safe” causes.

We cry for Goodluck Jonathan to bring back our girls from the Chibok even as it takes months for a single rape case in Kenya to get heard by a court. This is the battle that we fight every day.

On twitter a woman gets in trouble for making the outrageous claim that her body is her own.

The knife is shoved deeper, dead things keep crunching.


A blind man

walks into

an existential


He does not

see it.

Even these words feel forced. In trying to find what has been hidden from view I am unbecoming myself. Again we are reminded that Kenya is safe. I lock my door twice every evening. Up the road they present us with dead bodies. Pride gleams in their eyes. “We have caught the thieves.” Pride gleams in our eyes.

I lock my door twice every evening.

President Kenyatta spends time hanging out with Akon. His instagram explodes. Suddenly, he is cool. Somewhere in Kenya another body is crushed by a system that is designed to churn out bodies. The knife plunges itself further. We do not feel the pain.

They were packaged beatings,

behind closed doors,

and broken windows.


Like the tree,

falling in the forest,

they never happened


-          Witness #86

And those who decide to see are ignored. Shot down. Reminded that they are crazy. It is never a problem, until it is. Soon they begin to doubt their credibility. Their scars lose their stories. Then, slowly, they are forgotten. And no one comes up and goes “hey, what happened there?”

Instead broken bodies roam the streets pretending to be whole.

Telegrams on Air

Hewa is the sheng word for loud music. The phrase kupewa hewa that is used to describe how good the music sounds literally translates into giving air. When someone plays you music you are literally telling them that they have given you air.

That you can now breath.


I’ve been thinking about language recently (see here, for example). Language does a work of gathering and of alienation. Imagine being with a group of friends. All of them are from one ethnic group – you aren’t. At some point they begin to speak their language. Immediately you are placed outside the scope. Suddenly you have moved from being the participator in a conversation to an observer of culture. As an observer you realise that even nuances change. Intonations are all over the place (in Kisii, for example, everyone will suddenly be speaking in a higher register). As an observer you realise that, even if you learn the language, you’ll still be on the outside looking in.


In the 2007/2008 post election violence Eric Wainana’s “Daima mimi mkenya” became the social stopgap. It was used by the media to try and erase the notion of ethnicity and focus on nationalism. (We are all Kenyans, we should stop killing each other). It was played in two languages – English and Swahili.


Language moves in different ways. I know songs in several languages. I sing words whose meanings I do not know. I sing “Ndikhangela izulwana…. Lilelam” with Simphiwe Dana and “kuon wang e kendo” with Dela. In Soobax, Knaan talks about translating the vibe of a song.  When you don’t understand a language but just go with the flow.


“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-          Audre Lorde


The act of giving someone air could be seen as a life saving one. I sit silently as Asa breathes in the background “Orè ti mo mu bi aburo/ Orè, orè ti mo sé daara dara.” I inhale her pain and create my own worlds.