April 2015 – Always Remember.

Terrorists walked in to Garissa University College and massacred students who were only there to get an education. Students who were the beacon of hope for their families. Students who, like most Kenyans, were determined to get an education regardless of their school’s location or proximity to their loved ones. You see, the thing is, unless you are well-connected or you come from old money, education is typically the main way through which you can uplift your family and change your circumstances.

Parents and guardians do everything within their power to make sure their children get an education. Sacrifices are made, loans are taken out, fundraisers are held and furniture sold so that children get an education and a chance at a better life. The families that sent their children to Garissa University College are no different from the rest of us. They did what they had to do, with the resources that they have, in order to ensure their children where educated and had the opportunity to get ahead in life.

For these families to go through this…sigh…there are no words. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror they are experiencing as they try to trace their loved ones. The numerous questions that they are asking themselves. The what-ifs and whys. The uncertainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

I read the names of the students who were killed out loud. It reminded me of graduation ceremonies and the fact the students won’t get to graduate. They won’t experience that feeling that you get when your name is called on graduation day. That singular moment that reminds you of the challenges and triumphs that got you to that point. Their loved ones won’t get to sit in the audience and cheer them on on that day. They won’t experience the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of the sacrifices they made for the student.

How could this happen? How? All the promise and potential that each of the students killed carried within them…gone. Why would this be allowed to happen? Why weren’t the students protected? Why wasn’t the university adequately secured? This was a preventable situation, so why wasn’t it prevented?

I hope our leaders are awake and alert now. This cannot keep happening. We need an effective security strategy. We need well-trained and adequately equipped security forces. A system needs to be put in place for security personnel to be able to act on intelligence. Paying lip service to insecurity will not keep any of us safe.

#147notjustanumber is a hashtag that was started on Twitter to memorialize the students who were killed. Please check it out. Behind the statistics are human beings who had hopes, aspirations and dreams.

We Need An Education System Overhaul In Kenya – Part 1

I cannot remember a lot from my primary school Science and Agriculture class. One of the few things that I remember from Arts and Craft class is dovetail joints. The only reason I remember this is because it was the answer to a question on a quiz that I failed. It was also the first time that I was beaten by a teacher using a bamboo stick for getting an answer wrong. You can imagine the shock horror of being beaten during your first week in boarding school. Nothing stings like a bamboo stick, I can tell you that for sure. I did well in the two subjects in the final exams though. All hail the power of cramming.

Fast forward to high school where we had some mandatory subjects and others that we could choose. Now, in my high school the choice was between Art and Home Science. There was no way I was going to choose Art. I barely got the Craft portion of it right in primary and Lord knows I can’t draw to save my life. Home Science was the safer option and I was glad to ditch it after the first two years of high school. I forged on with Biology, Geography, German, History and the mandatory Chemistry, English, Math and Kiswahili. Of the 8 subjects, I was only genuinely interested in 4.5. I don’t particularly consider myself a science-oriented individual so balancing chemical equations was pure frustration. I loved the human part of Geography. As for the physical bit -let’s just say I can only name less than a handful of rocks. We all know the parts of Biology that were cool, everything else just made time move slower. Working with numbers is always fun, until they start throwing the alphabet in there and it all goes left. Passing the exam in some of the subjects was again due to the sheer power of cramming.

Cramming was a key strategy to doing well on exams. Understanding the content didn’t necessarily matter as long as you could regurgitate the information when tested. That’s how a lot of us ended up not retaining the things we learnt. It certainly didn’t help that there was more emphasis on excelling tests than there was on acquiring knowledge. As a result, students ended up being pushed through the system so that they could get to the next stage and become another educator’s concern. This continued singular focus on passing exams is not beneficial especially to students. The problem with this structure is that those who do not get certain marks or grades in the national exam at every level of the education system end up being written off. If you don’t get at least X marks at the primary level national exams then you can’t get into high school. If you don’t get a certain grade or above at the secondary level national exams then you can’t get into public university as a regular student.

Another issue is that the opportunities for students to discover their innate talents and explore their interests are not maximized. A student is in class from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., moving from one subject to the next with short breaks every few hours. After that, one is focused on doing homework and preparing for continuous assessment tests and exams – whether that entails actually studying or cramming. Getting good grades is emphasized as the main goal – the be-all and end-all of one’s academic experience. Pursuing one’s other interests is not even presented as an option. As a result, you end up feeling like a failure every time you don’t pass an exam. You start thinking that you are not intelligent and will probably not succeed in life.

Thanks to social media, I see classmates, who stood next to me as we were being caned for getting some question or other wrong on a GHC test in primary school, all prospering in unconventional ways. One of them, for example, paints beautiful pieces of art that make you want to reach into your screen and grab one to hang in your house. Another one is a blossoming entrepreneur. There is one who is a musician and a guitar instructor. The same applies to my high school classmates. Those remedial sessions on Sunday had us believing that we were doomed for not acing Chemistry or Geography or whichever subject we were not excelling in. Turns out getting a question wrong on a test or “failing” Biology is not the end of the world.

The primary and high school academic experience really should include the space for students to explore their other capabilities. Instead of packing every single minute with subjects that do not play up to everyone’s strengths and natural inclinations. It is unfortunate that this cram and pass education structure continues even today when Kenya is awash with proof that one can follow unconventional paths and be successful. I am in no way implying that education is not important because it is. I am simply advocating for a switch to a wholesome multidimensional academic experience.

For the love of God, STOP: On stereotypes, the church and Africa

It is too early in the year for the type of ignorance being peddled about Africa by some church affiliated folk in the name of missionary work. In this era of Google and social media, why do people insist on clinging to that false image of Africa? You know, the country ravaged by disease, poverty and war where people live in anything but buildings? In a time when information is literally at people’s fingertips, is it that difficult for one to educate themselves about African countries? Sure, you don’t have to know everything about all 54 of them but knowing that Africa is NOT a country is a solid first step. It’s not a hard concept to grasp guys.

I came across an article titled “First Presbyterian Church recreates rural African town.” The church, which is in Gainsville, Georgia, was scheduled to have a “Life in an African Village,” event this past weekend. According to the article, the event was geared towards teaching children in the area about daily life in a foreign country and missionary work. Because life is the same in each and every village across the continent…ha! The children would “build makeshift huts, listen to African drumming and sing African tunes…” How would they build the huts, you ask? Well, when I initially read the article, there were pictures of cardboard boxes open on the side with hay on top. I think that is how they were planning on doing it. The pictures have since been taken down. I wonder if it’s because they finally did some research and realized that that is not how huts look. Or maybe not. A girl can hope.

If that’s how they think huts look, you can only imagine what they told the children about living in a village. Only heaven knows what they said about the African culture that people love to define in ways that align with their personal interests. The guest speaker and performer at the event was a Zambian man who was also in attendance at the same event last year. Ala! Didn’t this depiction of Africa bother him!? Or did he say something about it last year and the organizers just didn’t listen? But then again, there is always that one African patting these we-will-misrepresent-Africa-because-we-have-decided-that-our-version-of-Africa-is-more-accurate-than-reality types on the back.

Then there is an American woman who went to Kenya on a mission trip and didn’t fall in love with the country. Why? Because she didn’t see poverty nor encounter people who don’t speak English, as she had expected. Yes, this happened, as written on her blog. Her entire post is condescending and made me question the motives of her mission trip. I guess we now know what happens when savior complex and superiority complex thrive in an individual.

The woman’s post will make you believe that people go on mission trips to delight in seeing poverty and feel good about waving their invisible alleviate-the-suffering-of-the-locals magic wand.  Seriously, how else can you explain this excerpt from her blog post?
My heart was prepared for dirt floors.
For dirty laundry hanging everywhere.
For kids that were half naked and covered in bug bites.
People who couldn’t speak English.

not this.

Eh!? You would think that when someone plans to go on a trip to a country they have never been to before they would do research on said country. Isn’t that just the common sense thing to do? Clearly she couldn’t be bothered with all that. She had created this image of Kenya in her mind and that is much more important than the reality on the ground.

Who gets discouraged by not seeing poverty!? Shouldn’t that, I don’t know, ENCOURAGE  you!? Shouldn’t it make you realize that the images you see in movies and commercials are completely distorted to push a certain agenda? Shouldn’t it make you want to change that and present accurate images of the country? That could become your mission, no?

It seems that this lady was so set on jetting in, tiling the dirt floors, washing the dirty laundry, clothing the half naked kids, putting balm on their bug bites and of course teaching Kenyans English.  While we are at it, why would dirty laundry be hanging anywhere? Because cleanliness is only reserved for wealthy folk and those from the West or? Oh, where would we be without her blessed heart and those of others like her?

Why spend all the time, money and effort to go to a country if you are hell-bent on forcing it to fulfill your stereotypes? How much good can you do for people if you are struggling to accept the fact that their circumstances are not as you expected? Is it not possible to spread His message where dirt floors and half naked children are not involved?

That blog post is both ridiculous and disturbing. This had been said before and evidently, we need to keep saying it. Kenya, and Africa as a whole, doesn’t need to be saved. What we need is non predatory partnerships, among others, to fuel our socio-economic growth and political development.

So, if you are going to teach children about mission work and Africa, please present the continent accurately. It’s the least you can do given all the resources available at your fingertips. Perpetrating stereotypes is lazy and a disservice to all involved. Avoid the reenactments too. There are plenty of pictures of huts online…no need for hay and cardboard box tricks. If you are going on a mission trip, research on the country you are going to. Leave your ignorance, prejudice and pre-determined uninformed solutions at your house. Interact with people, find out what their community needs and how you can be of help.

Forced Conversations

Have you ever been engaged in a forced conversation that had you wishing you could teleport? I have had several such conversations. Why does this happen to me every other month? That is a question only the universe can provide an answer to.

I was busy minding my own business at a bus terminal recently. Out of the corner of my eye I saw this guy, dressed in all black, complete with a baseball hat, walking by. Yes, out of the corner of my eye, because I make it my business to notice everyone and everything around me. Go ahead and blame Dateline and Criminal Minds for that. Those two shows will ensure that your alert levels are more acquainted with the ceiling than the floor.

“Are you a model?” a voice said. I turned around and looked into the eyes of…Dude in Black. Can you tell I have read Lion King one too many times? Ha! “No,” I replied and looked away. Nothing says ‘I am not in a conversational mood’ like a monosyllabic response. Everybody knows that except Dude in Black because he was probably bothering someone else when the memo was being sent. “Well, you look like a model,” he said. “I feel like I have seen you on the cover of some magazines.” Hallo pick-up line? Is that you? Look at you making a comeback on Flashback Friday and everything!

Now, I am a 5’3″ regular Kenyan about town, when is the last time you saw a non-celebrity who fits my profile on the cover of a magazine? People clearly have jokes on these streets. “That’s a lie,” I said. “No, it’s the truth,” he responded. I kept quiet and summoned my I-hope-this-conversation-doesn’t-continue smile. But alas, it wasn’t wide enough because the forced conversation proceeded without missing a beat.

Him: Are you enjoying your day so far?
Me: Yes.
Him: What about it are you enjoying?
Me: (Make conversation by all means…huh!?) Life.
Him: Are you here with a man?
Me: How is that relevant?
Him: I gotta know before I start talking to you.
Me: (Basic meaning of talking…yeah!?) You are already talking.
Him: Would you give me your number if I asked?
Me: (Is this a joke…stop playing Universe) No.
Him: How old are you?
Me: (Maybe if I use a non-response response he will finally sense the absence of a conversational mood) Young.
Him: C’mon. What is young?
Me: (That obviously didn’t work…sighs in Swahili) Young.
Him: You look like you are in your early twenties. Like 24.
Me: Yes. (Cue ‘Forever Young’)
Him: Do you have kids?
Me: (I don’t even know this guy’s name and he is already asking about my offspring situation?) No.
Him: Why? You don’t wanna lose your nice shape?
Me: (Because obviously that is the only reason a woman would not have children) No reason.
Him: I can give you mine…I have one.
Me: (Wait, is this man trying to get rid of his child at a bus station?) No.
Him: Don’t hold your bag like that. You will get a wrist injury.
Me: It’s not heavy enough to cause an injury. (Yay long response!)
Him: No, seriously, my friend was carrying grocery bags like that on her way from doing laundry and she injured her wrist.
Me: Oh…OK…thanks for the tip.

I am surprised that I remember so much of a conversation that I put very little effort in having. The mind works wonders, I guess. These forced conversations though…ah ah. Isn’t it easy to tell when someone is not interested in conversing with you? Why then insist on having a conversation that just gets uncomfortable for everyone? Hmmm…I am yet to see a man force a conversation on another man who is standing around minding his own business.

Are You Wifey Material!?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Irina Shayk have had, in a certain famous person’s words, a conscious uncoupling after dating for five years. Why do I know this!? Well, because a certain Kenyan chap tweeted the story and added this caption…”Ladies, I keep telling you, if a man dates you for over two years, you are not wifey material.”

This actually made me laugh out loud. Sometimes it’s the only way to deal with people’s “school of thought.” First of all, what is the correlation between length of dating and being wifey material? Is it not possible for two people to decide to take it slow? When did two years become the magic number? What if the two of them have mutually agreed that they want to take their time to get to know each other deeply? But, hey, that can’t be the case because men call all the shots, right!? The woman’s role is to just sit around and hang on until the man decides if she is wifey material or not…huh?  So, if you are dating for more than two years then you are some type of failure? But only if you are the woman, right!? Because it isn’t possible for the man to not be hubby material? What if the lady is not even interested in marriage!? What if she is into the Oprah and Stedman type of relationship? Does that mean she is somehow not worthy when they decide to go their separate ways!?

Marriage is not everyone’s dream. Yes, that’s a difficult idea for some to grasp but it is true. I think that people have been socialized to believe that a relationship is a dictatorship led by the man. He cherry-picks the woman from among the many available to him. He then decides if she is worthy to be his wife, have his last name and bear his children. As women, we are expected to rejoice that a man has picked us out of the masses. Then promptly start fantasizing about the wedding and married life we have been dreaming of since we were little girls. If the dating relationship results in anything but marriage then it is solely the fault of the woman. You and your shortcomings will never be anybody’s wife, they say.

Except that that is not how things work, or at least they shouldn’t. Relationships are not dictatorships. They are mutually beneficial partnerships, and the only way to truly be happy in them is to treat them as such, in my opinion. Yes, women are decision makers in their relationships. Yes, we also walk away from relationships when we realize the man is not  who he initially claimed to be. Yes, we also agree with the man to call it quits when the relationship is going nowhere fast. We don’t sit around waiting for the man to say, “Well, you are not wifey material so BYE.” When we realize the man isn’t in it for the long haul, we also have the ability to bid him adieu and keep it moving.

So calm down with trying to impose your timelines on women. Stop passing judgment on people’s relationships, that you were not a fly on the wall for, and then confidently using said judgments to give women life “pointers.”

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