Michael

Extraodinaire Extraodinaire

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.

 

i.

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,

cover,

hide

(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

waiting

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.

ii.

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.

iii.

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

iv.

Later

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

rumble

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.”

v.

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.

Directions

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

plane.

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.