Last Wednesday I was standing at the window facing west of Nairobi in a building. Inside this room at Bazaar building in town, there is a red carpet on which my legs are pressed against and the wide clear window panes provide such panoramic, breathtaking view of the city and its tall buildings. My hands are in my pockets. It is a gloomy, dusky day, starting from the weather which is extremely nippy. Cold weakens my knees, making me to tremble like marasmus and I are allies.
I am also in a gloomy outfit, with very weird colours. It is a suit made from different colours. Sharon texts to see how my morning is. I take a selfie and send it to her. She tells me never to wear the outfit like that again. This creates many gaps in me that didn’t exist before. Adding to it, only two students turn up for my class. My partner, Phiona is also sick. Everything points to a bad day.
In the process, I reminisce of the picture Elsie had sent me the previous night. She was seated in a restaurant with this exquisite view. I actually felt jealousy creeping in me. Then there was a caption under it. ‘Dad, guess where this is.’
It is one thing to guess wrongly if you’re answering your buddies or another person, and another whole thing if you guess wrongly when answering your daughter. To me, your kids should see you as a smart person or else how will they know that they deserve a smart ass in life? I want Elsie to understand that she is entitled to a good, smart man when she grows up. So I try to be an example.
I try to cross check the picture on Google with various online softwares (the extent to which people can go to please their daughters). It takes me about half an hour. I discover it’s a restaurant on the Eiffel Tower of France. So I text back like a genious, “Is that the Eiffel Tower? You look so cute.”
Of course she is amused. We chat a bit, informing me they’re on a school trip to Paris for a couple of days.
“Do you think you’d prefer living in Paris to London?” I ask her.
“The buildings look great. The people look horrible. It is like a house without a home…” she texts back. I ponder on that. I have never been to Paris so I actually don’t know how the city looks like. I have heard of its magnificent architecture. Her words are so profound, and I gather she doesn’t like Paris, but certainly she must love the Eiffel Tower.
She is the only thing that lightens the day for me, the thought of her having fun and touring the world at 11, enjoying things that perhaps her parents never enjoyed- being happy. It excites me and I explode with joy on the inside.
The day drags, but I have an awesome class. Kristin and Linda. Kristin seems to get all the concepts right, and it is someone you can easily count on as she takes things seriously. Linda on the other hand, is a relentless speaker, talks too much and overthinks most of the time. Her overthinking deprives her of grabbing the basic concepts.
I stand again by that huge window later on in the day after class. The view is the same, but the perspective is different. Inside me there is anxiety and excitement kicking alive. There is nothing I can associate all these with. I simply feel ‘there.’
My interview with Vivianne kicks off late in the evening in this same room.
“I have changed, I have really changed. Oh my God, this is not who I really used to be. I was a church girl,” she starts off the conversation.
At least that is the key statement that comes out of her. Her mother gave birth to her at around the age of 20 or 21. This is an indication that her mother got married at a very young age, a marriage that maybe she doesn’t enjoy at this point. Perhaps, she made a dicey decision, perchance it was pressure, or even things that make people get married at a young age. Some run out of options, others want to run away from the depressing situations at home and others imagine that maybe, maybe there is happiness in marriage; that once they hitch, all their problems will absolve.
And Viviane became the first born of the family. She still is. As she sits across me in this room at Bazaar, I can see a bubbly woman, chocolate and easy going. She has these nice and round cheeks that radiate largeness of life. You can tell she is soft.
At 24 years, she is the kind of person that exudes warmth wherever she goes. If you left an empty room or thermos and came back a few minutes later, it would be full of Viv’s warmth. Her lips are an adorable thing to watch as she bursts words out of them, so mellow.
“I was the only child for 8 years,” she says. This means she had a pretty good childhood, enjoying all she could for eight straight years before another kid showed up to steal the show. In fact she says she was pampered.
Then she was taken to a boarding school for her primary school before joining Tetu Girls High School in Nyeri. So her life was closed to boarding schools and church. Her mother, who for many reasons believed that she could mayhap correct her mistakes through Viv (let’s call her Viv), ensured that she grew up in church. So much of her life was enclosed in church, praise and worship kind of girl she turned out to be.
In high school, shit was different. Like she used to have tough times when her friends could have good time with boys during outings for games, symposiums and fests. She just hang out in the bus because she was a church girl. She followed the bible. “I didn’t think that there is anything a boy could tell me at this age.” Of course she’d get sad on Fridays when others girls could receive letters from the so-called boyfriends and she was the only one not reading one, like a cast out square peg in a round hole. She didn’t belong, and she felt sad. She felt like “Kwani am I a less of a girl?” thing.
“If there was another girl school for college, my mom would have taken me there,” she jokes. But it is the truth. I laugh really heartily. Her mom wanted her to grow up in church, to grow up and end up with a proper man, church man probably, and get into the right marriage because she doesn’t enjoy hers. She is not happy in her marriage. Her husband is a total drunk and he evades responsibility. One day, she clobbered him. Yeah, Nyeri women are good at it.
The influence Viv had from church trained her to see things from a closed perspective. “….I just realized the other day that I was closed-minded,” she admits. “I didn’t have a boyfriend until after form four,” she plods on. I don’t find it unusual, though with millennials it is like a curse being single or a virgin in high school. Things that society used to regard highly have now been given a reservation in the trunk. And people are romping each other left right and centre at a very young age. But she found it really strange not having a boyfriend by that age.
It doesn’t bother me, though at 15 I had already made someone pregnant and got a kid. But in high school and college it’s all about being cool…pursuit for vanity. So she felt awkward. She was a junior youth leader in church. Being in such a position could not allow her to think of boyfriends, though at time she thought about it.
She started dating when she joined campus, the then Technical University of Nairobi. She found a guy during kesha and she was “me I am done. Nitatoka na degree, na bwana.” I can’t afford to keep my mouth shut so I laugh. I really find it funny. She is the kind of those who are ‘keepers.’
It was rude shock on her, things took a different road. They ended. So I ask her what happened. She thinks for a while, which makes me think maybe it is a painful memory and she might want to fight the pain for a few seconds.
“I’ll be as honest. Since I was going for a born again guy, for me I thought (in my little mind) sex before marriage was a no no. It was simply out of question… but one day I had gone to visit him (Simon) and… he touched me. I was so frustrated. Nikatoka, nlikuwa nimejam. But then, he didn’t call back or apologize. So I was like gosh, I am risking things and the whole of my life. So the next time I am the one who initiated it.”
So the guy asked her what is marriage, to which she said it is the union of two people. His dude said, “So what else is left?” Hinting that technically if they were two and in a union they were already married. I wonder what answer I could have given myself. It was a logical question that didn’t need theology or philosophy.
“The relationship messed me a lot because later the guy started being violent.”
One thing built up into another. Simon would then play cold war with her whereby he doesn’t talk to her at all. But if someone called him, he would actually talk and talk like nothing was wrong in his life. After that, he would switch to cold war mode. This escalated to verbal abuse. She was also nagging him at the same time, I guess because of the frustration that fruited from the cold war. One day he gave him a hot slap. Actually smoke came out of her cheek. Haha. Scratch that.
She was in too deep to do anything, something she calls soul ties. She was going through hell of a time but she just stuck there like she was glued to this abusive guy. She even started stalking the guy… when is he coming out of class, where is he right now, who he is hanging out with, what he is doing right now and so forth. She had an extra key, the dude took it away. She stole it and made a copy. She was all crazy. It took her a long time to chuck herself out of this reverie.
The guy graduated and moved to Meru. He found a gig there to break his neck with. The distance helped Viv to recover. It is also true that the distance ended things. As days went on the affair’s death became even more probable.
“I stayed single for eight months. And by this time I was at my internship at Panari Hotel.” She mentions somewhere.
One day she receives a text from a guy (Evans) they were with in CU (Christian Union). A guy she used to ogopa back then because he was the kind of guy who was so churchy. You know those guys you don’t wanna meet because they might make you feel that you’ve been sinning? The ones that go “sistee how are you? What were you doing last night?”-as she puts it.
She had her doubts. The same doubts you can have for someone who is too churchy than you’re. She feared that this new ‘holier than thou’ dude might not be romantic. Isn’t that what we think? That bad boys and bird girls are the most romantic, so that we leave all the good girls and boys out here very single yet they could turn out to be the most amazing individuals?
Despite that, the guy passed the initial stages of doubts. Things moved well. But the tribal card sneaked its head into the game. The guy is a luo and Viv is from Nyeri. It was during the time when Kenya was enduring possible post election violence. The guy suggested that they get together so that they can prove a point to others that there is a need to love each other, after all, we’re individuals. She went in for it.
The man turned out to be romantic and spontaneous after all. She liked her and soon they were kicking it. “I even gave an offering… a thanksgiving offering. I was so happy. God had answered my prayer. Coz he is so holy…” I laugh and say “Uliangukia kuzuri.”
Remember the guy was in Nairobi and she was in Nyeri engaging her internship at Panama Hotel. When it ended, she came to Nairobi where they could now meet.
So when his guy said NO SEX, it was her time now to say “who does that at this age?’.You see how peculiar things suddenly get? They set a timetable so that on Wednesdays and Thursdays they would fast and pray against curses, ancestral ties and many other things. They met every day.
“Unfortunately, it was all in my mind. Anataka tukitoka job, we meet up, we hold hands, anisindikize, we go for window shopping on Saturdays…but then, I realized I did not love him. I fell with the idea of who he is and not who he was personally,” she narrates.
When she held his hands, she felt like arrrgg kind of stuff. She would shiver all the way to her toes. “It dawned on me that he was not physically attractive… but I liked his mind.”
She started falling out with him, like literary dogging out on him. When the guy discovered so, he sought to know why she was not reciprocating. He was doing his part, he claimed. She told him, “I don’t feel a connection.” I imagine how hurt Evans must have been. But he fought back, “Let’s try to have sex, maybe the connection will come.”
“I didn’t expect him to say that, at all at all,” she exclaims. She continues about her trying to think about the whole idea. Curiosity pricks me, so I ask her if they had sex. She says no. The fact that she wasn’t physically attracted to him played a big role in this. She couldn’t even touch him. It was something new, something she had never felt with any other person before.
The guy tried to fight for this love, putting things in perspective so that Viv could see them- his time, the sacrifices and all that, mentioning them and trying to drive sense why the relationship should work.
This Luo guy was a first born of 9 or 10 other siblings. So he was the cream of his family, the only one who went to college and achieved this height of success. They were looking up to him. His siblings, his mother and they were always calling to ask for demands, money. The youngest of the siblings was three years old, so you can imagine the kind of family he hailed from. To Viv, this was too much baggage. She feared she might be welcomed to a world where she has to raise his guy’s siblings as if they were their kids.
Evans was also the village hero. He was like the village landmark in Nairobi. People coming to Nairobi from shags knew only Evans.
So she left Evans due to those two reasons: she didn’t love him and the family baggage.
I just feel sorry for Evans.
But she says that growing up, she was never taught how to think. And if there is anything she’d teach her daughter, is to say what she feels. It has to do with how she was raised-being taught that other people are better than her; that others come first…
She has now reached a point where she has come out of that cocoon where she adores principles like “my thoughts really matter. My feelings and desires should be heard.”
She became a business development exec at some point for this new company. This changed the outlook of her whole life now that she was in a big position that affected so many people and things. Before, she was used to being ordered around but now she was in a position that needed her to think differently, choose employees well, make tough decisions, handle financial decisions. With this position, she found that she was limiting herself under God.
It is quite something to chew on. But let’s not judge quickly. She was overly religious that it limited her, that is what she meant. She couldn’t wear nice tops, or trousers or short skirts or do make-up. She was simply an everyday normal girl that was on a religious leash. It clouded her judgment.
“There is a lot to life other than praying to God and going to church,” she points out.
When she is looking for a man, born again is not at the top of the list of qualities anymore. A colleague at her work place is now teaching her how to improve her image- what to wear, how to communicate, how to do make up, how to conduct herself-simply grooming herself in this corporate world where image is key.
These quick turn of events from a church girl to a place where she has abandoned it however worries her, “Am I still in God’s page?” She no longer goes to church. This girl who used to sing in church, someone who was a youth leader, someone who feared boys, someone who once thought that sex before marriage is a sin, holier than thou girl who attended all keshas, doesn’t go to church anymore. It makes her feel guilty. She doesn’t wanna hear the truth, it hurts her.
She throws something that once she even shaved her hair to show how much she’s reading. It just captures me. Don’t you find it amusing?
The foundation of church shaped her character. And she doesn’t regret anything with this paradigm shift. The first world ingrained a stark foundation in her while the second one has taught her to live a larger life.
At some point she was struggling with her career. As an event organizer, she discovered that many events involved booze, partying and stuff that didn’t really align with her beliefs and principles as a christian. Her worry was that maybe she might only end up doing events for churches and other institutions that didn’t fancy the booze and stuff. She was a Christian then.
She then met another man at the workplace. She waited for him to break up with his bae before she went in. This guy drinks, his friends are crazy, he is a bad boy. And she is with him now. You see all that change?
We talk about her current life. I don’t have questions to ask her. But she says she’s worried for her children, if he ends up with the current guy, having a dad who doesn’t go to church.
I ask her what she is doing about it. She says she doesn’t want to think about it.
She is also worried about her siblings too because his dad does not provide an example as the man of the house. She is afraid that her young brother might not learn how to be a man.
“So what is your biggest lesson in your 24 years of living?” I ask her.
“That your sanity comes first,” she replies.
Call for application for design thinking programme for cohort 2 is still active. The programme trains young leaders and entrepreneurs on how to bolster their creativity and innovation.
The class will take place from 6th-9th August this year in Nairobi. So the programme is basically for young people (18-35) within and around Nairobi.
(The supreme hunter in captivity)
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?