Jingle (sustainable) bells

I come from a family that doesn’t take Christmas seriously enough by most people’s standards. Every so often, though, the Yuletide spirit comes upon us.

This year is one of those. We have a family Christmas picnic (at the same place as we had the Jamhuri Day picnic) and Yours Truly even has gifts wrapped.

This time, the concern is how to make the celebrations & gift-giving a) inexpensive b) sustainable. The first is an ongoing issue, the second has risen in prominence under the influence of Roo (who even started a Green Living group on Facebook) and it’s made for interesting choices.

This year I have:

* Been allowed to use wrapping paper by a friend who had a lot. No need to buy more.
*Used brown paper (what we’d use to cover exercise books when I was younger) to wrap gifts and then drawn on it to make it special. It makes for a unique gift wrap and it can be re-used.
*Used cloth ribbon sans wrapping paper. At Ksh 20/- per metre at Atul’s on Biashara Street, it costs more I’d spend at Walibhai Karim (12/- for the sort you’d see on cake) but you can re-use it for a host of things (or to wrap a gift!).
*These thoughts on food: the goal this year is to make simple, low-stress meals with fruits featuring prominently in the offering so we spend less time slaving over stoves cooking and more enjoying time with each other.

As with Jamhuri Day, the location is free and we’ll generate very little by way of trash. What we will leave behind will be biodegradable (peels, essentially) and all the dishes used will go home.

I hope you have a restful, enjoyable, and hopefully sustainable, Christmas. I’ll give you an update in the new year about how all these plans pan out.

[Some context: On my way to town today, Larry Asego was talking about gift giving over Christmas and before then my Mum and I had been talking about simple living.]

#CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or Christmas tales? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


When I grow up

I want to be a ___. Too old (or established in your career) to fill it in?

Well, children are not and we’re doing the vast majority a disservice by not giving them an idea about what the work entails.

Story: When I was 15, I wanted to be an architect for a bit. My uncle had me shadow his friend to get a taste of the architectural life. It turned me off architecture though, because of the way the universe works, one of my best friends went on to study architecture. But I digress.

I read this piece with a lot of recognition and rebuked by this knowledge: I was able to eliminate architecture because I had the chance to see what it entails. In the same way my brother knows a bit of what some fields demand in ‘the real world’ because he has encountered these professionals in their work settings.

Slate has a podcast called ‘Working’ in which people talk about their jobs. I especially liked this episode because we’re generally not hearing kids looking to go down that path and it’s intriguing how layered the work is.

Do you think this is a possibility in Kenya? It would bypass the hurdle that is privilege. Who knows, some kids may flock to each other’s homes to listen to it like I once listened to Muthoni Bwika’s show with one of my primary school friends.

Coincidental, but true: she now hosts Chanuka Dada on 89.5 Ghetto Radio.

#CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or career tales? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


I’m writing for @KenyanVibe

I can finally talk about it!

I’m writing about film for KenyanVibe.com, an online magazine that covers things cultural.

My focus is Kenyan films and the atmosphere around film making in Kenya. That means film festivals, releases, trailers, and everything in between.

My address, as always, is cuminwrites@gmail.com if you want to talk film or have a screening coming up.

Let the good times roll!

#CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or film-related tales? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


Women & ID cards; an addendum

In 1979, the UN passed the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While Kenya issued IDs to women in large numbers that year, it did not ratify the Convention till 1984.

This is something I am curious about (especially given the fact that a lot of countries accepted it with reservations) and would like to find out more about.

I don’t know much about the way international Conventions come to be adopted but 5 years feels like a long time to be figuring out one’s reservations.

This is bigger than Women in Kenyan History but it’s intriguing and a thing to explore here and in offline communities. My question then: What does it take for conventions to be ratified? Follow up: How can citizens speed up that process?

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or knowledge of conventions? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


Persons Unknown

Imagine not existing. Strange, right? Like something straight out of a dystopian universe.

For Kenyan women, this was their reality for the first 15 or so years of independence. Because they were not existent in the eyes of the state, some of them were even labelled Mau Mau when they were sceptical about IDs being issued to them.

Reading that account chronicling the issuance of IDs to women, I am struck by all the men speaking for women. In Parliament, male MPs speak about how their women being made to take off their headscarves when men aren’t made to remove turbans as their photographs are taken. In none of those accounts do I see a woman speak.

IDs started being issued to women in 1978 when Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, freshly installed as President, directed that women be issued with IDs. The Registration of Persons Act was amended in 1979 to retroactively reflect Moi’s edict. For a small window of time (till 1980 when the age of registration was raised from 16 to 18), Kenyan women over 15 finally had the chance to exist in the eyes of the state.

My grandmother was in her mid-30s when the law was changed and, not having a marriage certificate, took an ID in her husband’s name to signal something. Uniquely, women were working for governments and in the private sector yet because one couldn’t open a bank account without an ID card, their pay would be sent to their fathers’ or husbands’ bank accounts. It’s strange for today’s women to imagine such a situation but it was once par for the course.

Today, because of issues of history and discrimination, some women still can’t get ID cards easily. In a country where most people over 18   years don’t have birth certificates – this will change as they become a requirement for admission to primary school – to continue to be unacknowledged by the state into adulthood is unfathomable. Hard to imagine, but true, that there are women living in the 20th century on this regard.

Less than 40 years ago, anything women would have worked for would have belonged to men in the eyes of the state. I’m curious to know how women who travelled outside the country did it. If you have any idea, please let me know.

Before then, let us not lose sight of the places we have come from and how much more we still need to do to be recognised.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or stories about women and the state to share? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


Telling tales

I am currently reading this book and it’s proving to be an education in telling stories from history with colour and with heart.

I am a student of history and a lover of fiction and I find fictionalised tellings of history fascinating. To conjure a world that happens in a time that the reader may know a little of is an act of courage, and requires dedication that I find amazing.

Tomorrow brings another instalment of my Women in Kenyan History pieces and it puts me in mind of Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust, a book that tells the Kenyan story powerfully. Through fiction, we are compelled to confront certain parts of our national character and maybe then to transform them.

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye passed away about a week ago. That she left behind books that will give future generations a window into what this country once was is a wonderful legacy. It also serves as a reminder of the power of art to raise a mirror in which we can see ourselves as we are.

Here’s to the weavers of yarns, the story-tellers, the historians; keep remembering and reminding.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or fictionalised history tales to share? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


What does your feminism look like?

Mine looks like equal opportunities for girls and boys in education. For girls to know that whatever they want to achieve, the only thing they need is to go for it.

It looks like a good healthcare system. One where women don’t die as they deliver children, where girls and boys can access these services close to them.

It looks like an education system that gives each child a wide range of experiences at no cost. Sports, music, the arts, academics. Because when education is not free, girls may not be chosen for the honour.

It looks like a world where children can play in a public playground. Where we keep these spaces open, available, where private developers don’t claim what should be room to exist away from home; where girls can run and be free.

It means a Basic Income. Because if we all have some money in our pockets every month, we can be able to make certain decisions, certain moves. Because then women – and men – have a chance to take money out of the equation.

It means a variety of things and it’s the reason this post resonated. It’s why I do so much of the things I do: the Ed 10 Consortium, Wajukuu Library, speaking openly about mental health issues, reading policy papers.

This is what my feminism looks like; what does yours look like?

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or thoughts on feminism? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


Different strokes

A strange thing happened to me on Tuesday.

A man walked in as I spoke to the doctor and said hello. I said hello back stiffly, to signal my displeasure. He proceeded to turn to the doctor and tell her he was there to sell her some ‘good drugs’. The doctor must have noticed my angry face because she told him to ask for my permission and I declined to give it. He looked shocked; like he would always sell drugs with a patient present, during their consultation.

I have thought about this incident more than once since it happened and especially thought about what it means for health care in a context like the one I was in.

Here I was, in Mathari Hospital, a place whose name is a shorthand for whatever Kenyans perceive madness to be. The sales rep probably imagined that the crazy lady would not be connected enough with reality to object. Well, I was.

There is a notion that poor people want different things when they see a doctor; that they deserve different things. I think that we all deserve the same things: respect, kindness, dignity, honesty, fairness.
I paid, for the consultation with the psychiatrist, KSh 50; same as a person without a college education, a person who is experiencing a psychotic break, a person there for review after being released from a ward.

Today, a friend used a public clinic for the first time. He was astounded by the amount of time he had to wait (4 hours) and by the quality of the medical care (superb) because he had certain assumptions going in.

The way to solve some of the issues that ail our system of health care might then be this: put the educated, the assertive, the privileged in these settings. Task them with interrogating it, testing it, forming it from the inside.

See things change for the better.

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or healthcare reform ideas? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


Job hunting

I am on the lookout for a job in one of these fields:

Communications (I have previously worked in advertising. I’m open to going back to it.)
Social science research (I have a BA in Anthropology and SSR excites me).
Education (I have taught and the work of the Ed 10 Consortium keeps me excited, and informed, about the field).

If you know anything, let me know! Thank you.

Do you know of a job? Or looking to hire me? Get in touch: cuminwrites@gmail.com 🙂