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Long-distance loving

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I am grateful to have been loved
and to be loved now
and to be able to love,
because that liberates.
Love liberates.
It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego.
Love liberates.
-Maya Angelou

 

Writing that last post unexpectedly drew me into a space between melancholy and nostalgia, contentment and exasperation, as moments with my wife replayed in my head. Like our first dance together when her moves told me sexiness was her middle name. Or when she asked me to take a week off work, pack a bag and come with her; next I knew we were in Cuba – land of my Utopian feminist-Marxist self.

IMG_0788You put a spring in my step and make me feel ten feet tall, she told me. That was eight years ago. You brought sunshine into my life and make me feel deeply content, I replied. Our journey has been an adventure in living and loving. From exploring the mesmerizing Buddhist caves in Ajanta, and sunset dhow sailing in Lamu‘s magical mangrove channels, to cruising in the Baltic Sea.

090120121097Bliss interjected by everyday couple differences like her unrelenting pursuit of culinary delights in every meal while bran cereal morning, noon and night is fine with me. Or my need to plan out every detail while spontaneity is her third name. Or her disinterest with tidiness as I obsess – yes babe, i admit it – about arranging each item where it belongs the right way up.

In choosing to have it all, a relationship and career, we pay the price of separation. Thank you Skype and WhatsApp for making goodmorning and night  blow kiss emoticonpossible, yet the longing to touch, feel and be under the same roof remains.

Having a plan has made it work. A plan on when, where and how to meet next. On everyday life projects, home improvements or involvement in causes. On how to conjure jobs in the same country if not city.

For now, our choice remains to be long-distance partners, allies, lovers.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Private Deejay

turntable

She loves her electronic turntable. It’s not new but gives her as much pleasure now as when she bought it three years ago. She loves how the lights rise and fall, bright, dim and brighter again, dancing to the rhythm of the beats. All she needs is to hook it up to her laptop and surround sound speakers for the music to fill the room. She mixes like a pro, knows every song by heart and which one blends to the other. Most of all, she loves to play for her wife.

She sits by the turntable, waiting for the music to work it’s magic.

Turn off the lights
Light a candle

From the corner of her eye she sees her waltzing into the room. She lifts her head up and watches. The newcomer’s eyes are half-closed as she sways her hips, drinking in the music. Slowly, sensuously, she’s dancing towards her. Without a word she holds out her hand, inviting her to dance. She stands up and begins swaying with her. They dance their way to the middle of the room. Holding her hips she draws her close.

Heaven’s my destiny when I’m with you
The only place to be just you and me

Her hands slide upwards from her hips to her waist, rest there a moment, then back down round the hips and behind to her butt. She catches their reflection in the mirror across the room. She sees the way her dress flows with the music, with their moves, in perfect synchrony. She draws her closer.

And you’re like a rose that blooms in my garden
Innocent and sweet, my love you are

The feel of her, her breath, her scent make her heady. No, she mustn’t lose focus. She dances them back to the turntable. She sits down to queue more music. Her wife continues to dance. Time to pick up tempo, just a little. Set aside the slow jam for a while.

Moyo wangu ni mwepesi,
Nafanya vituko kama chizi,
Sura yako mzuri mama, Aaaah

Her wife looks at her, smiles, pauses and begins to chakacha. She picks up a kikoi from the sofa, ties it around her hips and moves. Quick, slow and in short staccato moves.

You are my African Queen, the girl of my dreams.
You take me where I’ve never been
You make my heart go ting-a-ling-a-ling, oh ahh

She picks up the pace. Back and forth, around and around, side to side.

Your love dey make my heart do yori yori
Nobody can love you the way I do

She makes her way to the turntable, twirling here, stopping there, three steps forward, one step back.

Na this thing make people dey say,
I don lose my sense my brain
But nobody can stop me from loving you,
am with you ma love love

Time to let the lyrics say what’s on her heart.

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

Her wife now sits astride her, facing her. She closes her eyes and feels lips on hers. The sweet, familiar taste of her tongue.

Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

Her hand slides under her dress. And finds, the time is right to make a baby. As she stands she lifts her to her feet, takes her hand and leads her upstairs to the bedroom.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Not a lost chapter

engagedBut one that took years to find a voice.
She would have understood, or, would she? She will understand, or, will she?
There it is, that quizzical look. Comprehension followed by disbelief, then shock and sadness.

Why did I say it?

Mum, coming out to myself changed my life. I am speaking my truth to you in order for the untruths to end. I am not salacious or lewd or dirty or evil. I am the child you raised to work hard, be honest and respectful.

At the height of my anguish I cried to the God I’d prayed to all my life asking her why I could not love like others could.

My journal told another story. A woman who made my heart skip a beat, twenty times a day. Who shared my politics about politics and kept me intellectually engaged. Conversations with her continued in my head long after we had parted. A woman whose skin I fantasized what it would feel to touch, soft, smooth and silky. Whose scent I breathed in, no, drank in, with every pore. A woman whose spirit melded perfectly into mine. Whose thoughts I knew even before she put words to them. Whose sorrows and joys I felt despite being thousands of miles away.

Mum, a weight lifted off my shoulders the day those words crossed my lips. Indescribable peace washed over me. I am a lesbian.

She hangs around me, and I around her, because we are lovers, partners, friends. The song she put in my heart six years ago still plays, a melody I had never heard before. She put a lightness to my step, encourages me when I need it, chastises me when I am not exerting myself. She warms my heart, holds me close and with her, I know it will be alright. I know for certain that I am capable of loving, of relationships that are sincere and true. You have come to love her too Mum. You’ve experienced her gentleness, her generosity, her thoughtfulness. She is your daughter-in-law.

I am a lesbian.

follows from I am a homosexual – Mum

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A hydra tale of aid conditionality: Human rights and sexuality

(image from gngtnt105.deviantart.com)

This past week, the British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that UK aid would be withheld from countries that ban homosexuality. “Britain is one of the premier aid givers in the world. We want to see countries that receive our aid adhering to proper human rights”, Cameron is quoted in a BBC interview.  The UK decision was made following a report by the Eminent Persons Group to the Commonwealth heads of government at the 2011 biennial summit just concluded in Perth.

The 206-page reportA Commonwealth of the people: Time for urgent reform’ (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2011) is indeed remarkable for the attempt to systematically highlight all manner of human rights abuses in member states. It recalls the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG) initial understanding, at its inception in 1995, of the need to respond to human rights abuses. The report authors imply that the CMAG has instead buried its head in the sand, failing to hold members accountable for human rights violations and intervening only rarely. The report evokes human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in international declarations, covenants and other agreements dating back to 1948. The report recommends creating a new “Charter of the Commonwealth” and a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

For all the uproar since Cameron’s announcement, it may come as a surprise to many that the rights of same-sex couples are evoked only once in the massive document:

“We have also received submissions concerning criminal laws in many Commonwealth countries that penalise adult consensual private sexual conduct including between people of the same sex. These laws are a particular historical feature of British colonial rule. […]  It is one of concern to the Commonwealth not only because of the particular legal context but also because it can call into question the commitment of member states to the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and principles including fundamental human rights and non-discrimination”. (pg. 100)

This mention places the criminalization of same-sex relationships in a medical context, citing the negative repercussions on efforts to curb the spread of HIV. Reducing discrimination to a medical issue is problematic however that is another issue.

The ensuing recommendation reads:

“R60. Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a process of repeal of such laws”. (pg. 102)

How did this perfectly sanguine argument snowball into the current multi-headed dragon that it now is? Blame sensationalist media coverage of the report and maladroit announcements such as Mr. Cameron’s. Western media reports have tended to take a matter-of-fact ‘like it or not’ approach while media in aid recipient countries largely express outrage on the new aid conditionality of legalizing homosexuality, as understood.

Apparently homosexuality is illegal in 41 out of the 54 Commonwealth member states.  My attempt to learn the identity of the 13 progressive countries led to a Wikipedia listing that is somewhat misleading. Kenya for instance is listed as a country in which male same-sex ‘activity’ is outlawed, and female same-sex ‘activity’ as ‘legal’. Now for those who understand Kenyan law which, similar to former British colonies, is a direct off-shoot of the British legal system, female same-sex relationships are not mentioned. Kenyans do not misconstrue this silence as a legal endorsement of lesbian relationships. The only implication is that no legal grounds exist under which to prosecute lesbians for their sexuality.

But I digress. My concern is that media’s twist to the story coupled with the ill-thought decision to cut aid have created a multi-headed dragon that will surely be another nail in the coffin for LGBT rights in the global south. The public’s right to know and understand the issues is transgressed; the likelihood that they will have the opportunity or patience to hear the full story in all its complexity is slim. For instance, it is not public knowledge that prior to the recommendation, our collective voices as the LGBT community around the world through an online petition supported Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary General, following his speech to end the discrimination of LGBT. Signatories to the petition each recounted personal stories on the impact of discrimination on their lives. We urged the leaders to take steps to hold member states accountable without prescribing specific directions for action.

Perhaps we should have pushed further to offer an analysis on possible actions that could have avoided the ill-conceived decision to withhold budgetary aid, an action that will affect the poor regardless of their sexuality. Following the announcement, civil society groups have petitioned the British government not to cut aid but to switch it to programmes that support human rights.

A final word. In this discussion I have steered away from questions about the legitimacy of the Commonwealth, a different debate altogether. Whether a former colonial power and ex-colonial states should be enjoined in a common bloc, whether there are indeed shared interests, is a different discussion.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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What really is Toronto’s Gay Pride?

Queers without bordersThe caged bird sings of freedomMaya Angelou

What are they celebrating?’ my dad asked as Toronto’s gay pride parade dominated the television news. My mother and her equally elderly Kenyan visitor looked in shock at the varying degrees of nudity and excesses characteristic of Pride.

Indeed, how to explain Pride to elderly parents whose brief experiences of North America only confirm their conviction the biblical last days are finally here? The younger generation in the room searched my face intently to hear how I would respond to this one.

Pride’s mission statement as a celebration of the ‘history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies communities’ (www.pridetoronto.com)  would only add fuel to the fire, so I decided to minimize the explanation. Well dad, they are celebrating Toronto’s diversity. But why 20 years? Well dad, possibly that’s how long the parade has existed as an annual event. A cop-out reply from a queer female who only a day earlier had wholeheartedly partaken of the festivities at the dyke march and other Pride events.

An honest but not brazen, in-your-face answer would have been preferable. Pride is a celebration of the ability to finally be true to myself, to break free from heteronormativity’s chains. While evidence shows the existence of non-hetero sexualities in our traditional societies, the current increasingly open public discourse appears to have fueled phobias at the same time as the resolve to assert difference has intensified. Pride is broader than sexuality however – it is about multi-dimensional identities in all their complexities, and the reality of the possibility to thrive because of and not despite of difference.

My mother’s channel-flipping in search for a more palatable show halted at a television evangelist’s sermon about chains that bind. The evangelist maintained that chains in any single area of an individual’s life will hold back her progress in other dimensions of her existence. Exactly! A person’s constitutive identities cannot be compartmentalized; fetters in one or more of these identities will inevitably feed back and link into her other identities, in turn constraining her possibilities to fully and truly thrive.

The essence of Pride is a fête of the (no longer caged) bird’s freedom to finally name the sky her own.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Happiness according to Gallup

A Gallup poll report published in April 2011 found that the residents of my adoptive country Canada are among the world’s happiest.The same poll found that the residents of my home country Kenya are among the world’s saddest people.

Residents in countries rated high on Gallup’s ‘happiness’ scale are probably less startled with the findings than those from countries situated on the lower rungs of this ladder. A review of Kenyan news media showed a pre-occupation with this poll, and attempts to either challenge or explain the findings. A review of other media revealed the findings were new fodder for historical rivalries: “Pakistanis happier than Indians’ read one news story.

The results are as intriguing as they are startling. Apparently the pollsters asked people in different countries to rank their lives on a scale from 1 to 10 on several indicators such as physical health, emotional health and their work environment. My attempt to obtain the actual questionnaire was fruitless, so I comment here based on a summary from the Gallup website on the survey contents.

It seems to me the survey is based on a white, western, middle-class understanding of ‘happiness’. Integral to a valid transnational comparative study is a shared understanding of the variables under scrutiny, which seems not to be the case in this Gallup poll. The survey appears to transpose certain values across different cultural contexts, to subsequently draw conclusions on responses given outside a reciprocal shared understanding of the concepts.  Take for instance the questions on Gallup’s ‘healthy behaviour index’ within the happiness survey. Whether one exercises 30 minutes or more, or has five or more servings of fruits and vegetables are western preoccupations that are also out of touch with a different reality. If my mother had time to spare she would not spend it exercising. Her daily diet is composed of vegetables, so she must do extremely well on this indicator, but this should not be equated to happiness.  Or Gallup’s ‘physical health index. Did she feel well-rested yesterday? Has she been told by a doctor or nurse she has any in a list of medical conditions? Being ‘well-rested’ is not high up on my mother’s list of priorities: she is most satisfied when she is tired from hard work. She has a superstition about doctors as do many of her peers and had not seen the inside of a hospital for more than a decade. When she feels unwell she self-medicates (and successfully) for two common ailments – malaria and typhoid. So no, she has not been alerted to any medical condition and would answer in the negative to this question. Far from being eccentric, my mother’s attitudes reflect those of numerous others like her with more or less similar life experiences. To paraphrase an elderly participant to my (unrelated) research, questions that are valid in one context are not necessarily so in a different context. This seems to be self-evident but it is surprising how often this truth is ignored.

Further, what are the demographic characteristics of the respondents? To what extent are women’s responses different from men’s? One ethnicity’s from another? An intra-national rather than transnational comparison would be a more interesting and useful analysis. According to information on the Gallup website, the poll is not simply about happiness, it is about a nation’s ‘state of mind’ that is in turn instructive for the political leadership. Given that 2012 is an election year for Kenya, demographically disaggregated results would not come at a more opportune moment.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Life journeys: ordinary or extraordinary?

life journeys: seeking destinyLast Christmas my wife gifted me with a voluminous coffee table book – a five-pound (yes, I weighed it), 354-page tome profiling over 70 Kenyan women that the author defines as ‘high achievers’. I leafed through the book eagerly, anticipating the surprise and inspiration the author claims the stories will evoke. 

True, most of the women profiled are known entrepreneurs, corporate executives, politicians or leaders in various professions. No surprise there. Most of them too, particularly the under-40s, were born with silver spoons in their mouths. No surprise nor inspiration there either; childhood privilege has paved way to power in their adult lives, albeit with some extra effort on their part. I shelved the tome away with a plan to one day pick through it with a fine tooth comb in search for that elusive inspirational story.

The day arrived yesterday and with it, a renewed determination to find at least one story that would ‘surprise’ and ‘inspire’ me. Hidden in the profiles of predictably affluent women are a handful of stories of ordinary women who by their visions, life philosophies and/or actions have achieved the extraordinary. 

The older women whose stories are inspirational lived through the hardships of the British colonial era and an array of struggles post independence, gender-based and other. Muthoni Likimani remembers “I have suffered because I am a woman”, recalling being passed over for promotion at the public broadcaster Voice of Kenya (now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation) immediately after receiving the highest commendations for her performance. A woman I admire tremendously former member of parliament Phoebe Asiyo has relentlessly pursued the gender equality and anti-female-discrimination agenda in spite of the heavily patriarchal political and cultural context.

The relatively younger women whose stories are inspirational have either turned around otherwise adverse situations to spur social change, or have been proactive in countering inequality. Asunta Wagura’s life is one seamless, deeply motivating whole; no strictly public nor purely private nor anything in-between persona. Her work to challenge stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS since her public declaration of her seropositive status at a time when such openness was taboo is well-known through her regular newspaper column. Lorna Kiplagat is another of the handful who, with her earnings as an Olympian, has established a philanthropic foundation and a sports academy for underprivileged girls. 

These, in my opinion, are stories a person engaged in everyday struggles of the masses can relate to and from which inspiration can be readily drawn. Acknowledging privilege is a first step towards enabling us separate the extraordinary from the ordinary, the inspirational from the mundane, in any meaningful way. 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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