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Bergen, north of Holland (about 45 minutes drive from Amsterdam), is really the place you want to wed. There, roads are winding, extra leafy trees stand tall and close together, the beaches provide warm and sunny weather; and houses (all stand out, in shape and architecture) are designed to build homes. Mine is the only bedroom (I think) located on the lower floor of the little yet charming 114-year old Hotel 1900 (where we are staying over the wedding weekend). It’s the most beautiful Saturday morning I have seen, since my arrival in Netherlands. A bright shy sun light with tenderness and assurance seeps in through my window. I know this will be a more than a good day. 10540657_10152506767507559_1733602766_n10529635_10152506780942559_1786459364_n From Hotel 1900, it’s a five-minute walk to the most beautiful remains I’ve ever seen—Bergen’s Ruïnekerk (Ruined Church). Surrounding the chapel’s front yard are high ruined walls made of golden brown bricks. The walls have holes, where there used to be cathedral windows. Epitaphs lean on the walls, as lifeless as high fashion models pose. A clay pot with lovely lilac and white flowers is sitting pretty near the church’s main entrance. The church provides a Holier Than Thou aesthetic gratification. The ceiling is so damn high (even higher than normal cathedral ceilings). Half its length is wooden brown and the other half – painted pure white. The windows are so large – all four Teletubbies could certainly jump through, at once. Several golden chandeliers dangle with church candles, or lights shaped as candles, burning slowly. In the fifteenth century, this used to be the largest church in the province of North-Holland. However, during the 80 years war against Spain, it was looted and burned down by Dutch Protestants. It was later rebuilt to its current state (making it now more than 300 years old). Wow!!! 10528039_10152506763562559_960094254_n10527929_10152506869552559_1729024944_nIt’s about 3:00 p.m. The Bridal March song goes off. Dressed in a simple non-lacy and non-flowing wedding dress with a white mini jacket and a statement Ankara belt, Nynke (the bride) walks in smiling. Her Dad is holding her hand. Such cute little flower girls in Ankara dresses just walked in front of them. Her man, Steve (the groom), is dressed in a cream-coloured tuxedo, a snow-white shirt with a matching smart bow tie. A twosome so different yet elegant—I assert – to myself, “Yes! Those are My Friends!” After what sounded like a Catholic mass and mostly conducted in Dutch, Nynke and Steve are just about to be married. The Father asks, in English, “Anyone with any reason why I should not unite these two; speak now …” A bad, or good joke (we previously discussed) comes into real play. From the very back, Bien stands up and shouts, “I have something to say!” All eyes on his serious face: “I know Nynke … She is a very good woman – that’s all!” The church bursts into laughter, more like a collected sigh of relief. After the You May Kiss the Bride speech, the couple kisses for an eternity. I like that the Father’s sermon for the couple is sweet and very Catholic-esque short. “You don’t need sunshine but someone by your side, always. Look out of the window, we expected better weather today but you don’t need blue, but trust… ” Later, Steve sings to Nynke an acoustic (only accompanied by a piano) version of Donny Hathaway’s A Song For You. (Isn’t that like one of the sweetest love songs ever?) She surprises him, and all of us, when she sings for him an olden (I think) Dutch love song, from the balcony of the church, accompanied by the beastly organ music instrument. Even though I can’t comprehend the lyrics, I feel the emotion pouring out of her, and then from me. I’ve never heard Nynke sing with such heart and soul. My eyes feel like I just rubbed red-hot Indian chillies on them. I feel like running out of the chapel to be free of this captivity. I look around the church and all (Yes – all) the women are sobbing – so I succumb. It’s embarrassing, but thankfully I didn’t wear mascara so I am not worried that I will look like the grim reaper after this. I told myself that I wouldn’t cry but these tears turn out to be my first, at any wedding. Sauti Sol throw a killer concert right in front of the church’s dais, transforming the peace and holiness into something else. They sing all their wedding songs and Pharrell’s Happy, led by Nynke. Later Steve and Nynke’s Paps both give such precise and wise speeches—I am awed. So is the church. There’s too much love, fun and freedom inside this Catholic church—I can’t wait to tell my mum (a staunch Catholic) of this liberty. 10550203_10152506740052559_1293265614_o10552187_10152506713877559_1455828313_o10536834_10152506829017559_795525125_nAfter a few minutes, there’s a cake cutting ceremony at a gazebo outside church. The cake has several storeys. Its colour matches Steve’s tux. It tastes like sorbet and everything nice. This is the first wedding I’ve attended without cake-hoarding servers. It’s a dream-come true for the kids. It doesn’t matter that I hate cake; I join their greedy game of relishing large portions to come back for more. Going around is plenty of champagne, congratulatory hugs and kisses to the couple, meet-and-greet pleasantries, and fashion. It is about 6:00 p.m. guests return inside Ruïnekerk for dinner. The church space is now like a scene from Jesus’ Last Supper table. The tables, laced in white cloth, have gourmet Kenyan and Indonesian (if my taste buds don’t fail me) finger-licking dishes. Sierano and me even share a second plate. Just as the wine is kicking in, Nynke and Steve are at the front of church with an announcement to make. But only a music mix kicks in, for a choreographed dance session from the two, now in different outfits. Azonto. Jika. Happy Dance. Dombolo. B-Boy Dance. There isn’t one cool dance move that misses out. It’s super dope! Suddenly, guests are standing on seats, and cramming, trying to steal a picture or if lucky – get a video. Watch Nynke and Steve’s super Dope First Happy Wedding Dance, recorded via my phone camera.

A group of friends then present a song and another choreographed dance to the couple, who join in the FUN. The after party (from a sunny and bright Summer 9:00 p.m.) is private and by the beach. The wooden white coloured establishment exudes the feel of a former beach house. The walls are made of glass. There’s a patio with a view (overlooking the vast North Sea) to die for. This is a scene off OC. The sand here is so clean and so soft it makes feet sink so deep. The water is super cold. Only sound close to the North Sea is the laughter from the party, fading music and water-sand back and forth motion as tides rise and fall. Good vibes, drinks and a lot of dancing to the killer DJ and the most private and heartfelt concert delivery I’ve ever heard Sauti Sol give. 10543229_10152506748782559_477459719_n10544478_10152506816007559_883111188_nAfter a super cute daughter, and years of anticipation, Nynke and Steve have finally made it official. Nothing about this couple is ordinary. She is super cute, super hardworking and super stylish. Steve’s voice and everything is smooth. He’s fashion forward and super industrious. Look up Free Spirit and Roho Safi in the dictionary—their faces show up. They are creative. Crazy. And fun. And accommodating. And loving. They’ve got such big hearts; if merged together and thrown like a meteorite from space into earth, they would form a love crater. 10544950_10152506846842559_725385406_n10552000_10152506715347559_2145560543_n Weddings generally make you feel sorry for yourself and your singlehood or dysfunctional relationships. But this one felt different. It was more of a global gathering of friends and family—guests came from Netherlands, Germany, Kenya, Brazil, USA, Dubai, Czech Republic, France and pretty much every corner of the world. It was surreal to be at one place with ALL our friends, and for it not to have been a funeral. There was nothing to think about but savour every single moment. More than Nynke and Steve’s celebration of love, their wedding was a massive and grand celebration of love, life, friendship and family. It ended up lasting another two days, following Sunday (back at Ruïnekerk) and Monday (at the Bergen home).

BONUS: So honoured and glad to have been part of your celebration Nynke and Steve – congrats to that and the awesome wedding dance. Because of your wedding, I ended up spending weeks [meaning it’s not infatuation] falling in love with Netherlands; reuniting with you, nearly all my friends from Europe and making new alliances. I am so inspired by the power of the beautiful thing we are all looking for. It’s called Love, and You are it!!

You might also dig: Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I), the first of the four-part series: Love, Sex and Drugs – my tales from the Netherlands.

10401419_10152412678212559_3675525569351012732_nMaya Angelou wrote like a prosetry goddess. From the first page of her 1969 autobiography: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, to the last, words rhyme and dance as pages turn. The book details Maya’s early years— an incredible and moving tale of how an African-American woman defied rape, racism, segregation, black skin, ugly kinky hair and all odds, to find closure, forgiveness, and become outstanding.

The story kicks off soon after three-year-old Maya and her beloved brother, four-year-old, Bailey Jnr. are sent off like cargo, by their separated parents, to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their larger than life grandmother Annie Henderson, whom they refer to as Momma. “The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming. It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embraces a stranger’s child. Warmly, but not too familiarly.” Momma, popularly referred to as Sister Henderson by many, is the only Negro owning a store in Stamps that stocks all sorts of essentials for all, from canned fish, beef, flour to thread and sugar.

Momma’s famed store, church and school, become the only world Maya and Bailey know while growing up. They also live with Momma’s son, their crippled uncle Willie. It’s the 1930s and racism is at its high. Being black is hard and bad enough. When a white duo, teachers from a nearby school come into their store, for the first time in her life Maya sees her uncle struggle to stand still and upright, pretending not to be crippled. She writes, “He must have tired of being crippled, as prisoners tire of penitentiary bars and the guilty tire of blame.” This, she says, was the first time she felt like she understood and empathized with him the most.

Certain aspects of the book are insightful and carry with them circumstances that shape Maya’s future policies and identity. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, the name Maya comes about as a result of Bailey’s inability to refer to his sister by name. To him, she was just his. “After Bailey learned definitely that I was his sister, he refused to call me Marguerite, but rather addressed me each time as “Mya Sister,” and in later more articulate years, after the need for brevity had shortened the appellation to “My,” it was elaborated into Maya.” While aged eight, Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend – a situation that traumatized her to the extent of being dumb for years. “Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people and they’d curl up and die … I had to stop talking … I was called impudent and my muteness sullenness when I refused to be a child …” This begins to be Maya’s relationship with scrutiny, silence and literature.

Maya’s interest in reading and poetry is mentored by a Negro, the fancy Mrs. Flowers, whom Maya credits as the person who gave her the first of lessons of living: “She said that I must be always intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors.” Growing up in Stamps, then a little unknown town in the countryside, allows Maya to later look at the world differently and appreciate every single bit of what it offered, while blind to tragedy and prejudice. She says, “The resignation of Stamps’ inhabitants encouraged me to relax. Their decision to be satisfied with life’s inequities was a lesson for me.”

One time, the only white dentist in Stamps denies Momma and Maya an appointment just because Maya is a black kid. This is despite Momma having lent him money in the past, a favour he hadn’t returned. When Bailey witnesses the uncovering of a Negro murdered and dumped while tied up like a mummy, Momma moves Maya and Bailey from Stamps to city life with Vivian Baxter for good.

MayaAngelouQUOTEEvery difficulty and disappointment Maya encounters while growing up, until teenage years, moulds her razor-sharp memory, strong character and gift of forgiveness/arbitration. Despite growing up hardships and the difficulty of healing from rape, Maya still finds strength in the power of love, and family (even though disjointedly). She goes on to build a solid relationship with her brother (whom she refers to her Kingdom Come) and mother, Vivian Baxter. “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow,” she writes in escape of words to describe Vivian’s flamboyance, beauty and guts.

By the age of seventeen, Maya becomes the first black person to operate a streetcar in San Francisco. She’s also slept in dumped cars, lived with street children, and got herself a baby boy— Guy Johnson. Her mother’s mentorship, belief in her greatness, together with Maya’s long-term assertiveness and power of knowing intelligence and wanting to only associate with greatness, must have been the propellers of Maya’s great legacy-to-be.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird, because of the juvenile narration, by younger Maya and nine-year-old Scout Jean Louise, respectively. Both books heavily feature themes of racism and segregation. There’s a lot of beauty in the narrators’ innocence and impression of adult behaviour and the power they’d have had if things were to run their way. This style of literature challenges us all to tap into our inner innocence and realise that like a bird; free or caged—it’s up to us to sing whatever song we deem fit.

BONUS: May Maya rest in eternal peace. And her books, poetry, drive and powerful words and that trembling deep voice continue to inspire us all. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the most highly acclaimed of Angelou’s autobiographies. The book, one of a seven-volume series ends just as Guy is born to a young single and happy mother. Watch the below video of Maya’s son response to the question he’s been asked 1000 times.

 

 

 

 

Rules of Attraction

Light Swicth

Like electricity wires; red, yellow, green, white and black – we are so different yet can’t work without one another. We are so hot, even when times are cold. We are so on, even when the lights are out. We are so happy, even when the world isn’t. We are so bright, even when it’s dull outside. Inside, our light burns so bright, even without fuel. Short circuit or perfection, our only rule of law is to dream big, and make love.

 

When The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin was released in 1981, I hadn’t been born, till a couple of years later. My love for TV and film (starting soon in the 90s) was cemented by my family’s video library business. The Owoko’s Library was enormous and rich in content. As a little girl, I would marvel at the hundreds of videotapes lined in cabinets in genres and alphabetical order. We had all the Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme action-packed films, with male packs that left me knowing that bonafide movie stars had to be box-shaped.

Our library also had musicals like Thriller, Sound of Music and Kidd Video. I adored cliché rom coms like Pretty Woman. Back then it was all about Hollywood, Bollywood and Boyz N The Hood. Must be the reason why I don’t remember much of African movies our library stocked, apart from those that had African themes like Coming to America and Cry Freedom.

But I do recall watching The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, a film that detailed the atrocities of Uganda’s former dictator, Idi Amin Dada (during his rise to power in 1971 until his overthrow in 1979 as the result of the Uganda-Tanzania War). It was the first film that left me curious and hungry for more of African films or films with Africans with characters I could relate to. It was also the first film to freak me out most, but I still couldn’t stop re-watching it. It had an arresting power and shocking factor that, to my oblivious young-self, displayed an African appetite for voracity, power and impunity. The film’s display of Idi Amin’s dirty administration and inhumane acts was appalling. Its themes tapped into my inner most soft spot at an early age. The scene where Amin’s guards throw a crippled man in a river of crocodiles haunted me. I cringed at the sight of Amin eating people’s body parts. I was scared shitless for his girlfriends, as I knew they didn’t have a choice, but love him how he demanded or die.

A beautiful thing about childhood is the innocence that comes with thought; it’s like the first light of day, sharp and clear. I recall not understanding the consciousness of art, if at all there’s such a thing. From the very start I always invested all my feelings in the development of any story I read, song I heard or film I watched. For a long time, it baffled me what sort of career acting was. At first I thought I knew that all actors were just enacting roles. But Joseph Olita’s role as Idi Amin Dada is what made my conscience have to balance on a thin line, wondering if film was reality or fiction. Because Olita was so bad that he made my heart thump for a scared nation, and he looked exactly like Idi Amin, for some reason I first thought, without a doubt, that somehow he was the real Idi Amin. But then I started asking myself a million questions like: If Amin was that bad, why would he agree to document his actions for a film? What kind of crew would want to work with such a person? And then I deliberated that it couldn’t have been the real Amin in the film – but to act out like Amin, I decided that Olita had to sign up to be completely like Amin. But what would happen when he’d have to die? Would he die for real? This was the first time as a child I honestly thought that being the greatest actor in the world had everything to do with getting into character, even dying if you had to. I believed that movie stars were paid so much money then that it was a worthy sacrifice to always be watched in films and leave a lot of money to your family—wealth and legacy. As a young film buff, I believed that real movie stars were martyrs to large extents.

aminI kept on re-watching the film wondering how on earth such atrocities could have happened, and especially in Uganda, a country so close to Kenya. Of course, personal myths were shattered later after asking my sisters, Dad and mum questions about the realness of Olita’s character. That’s the first time I remember bowing down at an actor’s prowess and intuitively knowing that they were just great, with or without direction. This realisation made me watch the film even more and read a lot about the real Idi Amin. I was amazed at the striking resemblance between Amin and Olita; from looks, to earth-shaking personality and that assaulting roar of a laugh. As soon as I had this understanding, and that of Olita’s art, I remember fearing for Olita’s life. How did the real Idi Amin react to the film and would he come after Olita? Olita must be very brave man, I thought.

I met Olita in real life once, at our local shopping centre (Nairobi), about two years ago. As soon as I saw him, I saw Idi Amin and then I remembered, “It’s that man who played Idi Amin!” Keen not to embarrass myself I walked up to him and explained how vital his film was to my memory of African films. He was very graceful and seemed impressed to still command fans. He agreed for us to take a photo, which unfortunately I can’t trace. When I heard that Joseph Olita has passed on, a part of me departed. I must have stopped clutching onto the early memory of Olita as Idi Amin and allowed him to be human. What I can’t forget is Olita’s brilliance as an actor and ability to immerse into characterisation. He was the first African actor I identified as great.

He rose as Idi Amin and now Olita falls to grace.

BONUS: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin was a co-production of the UK, Kenya and Nigeria, with most of the filming done in Kenya. Olita also featured in the film: Mississippi Masala as Idi Amin. Masala is a 1991 film starring Denzel Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemonade

Like bees are to sweet-smelling flowers, my body gravitates towards your hues. Your soft pastels fused in my crayon make me lose control in a kaleidoscope. I can’t cope with you, and I can’t cope without you. But I can Warhol us into some kind of work. I am not sure if it will make it into any sort of hall of fame but inside our little frame; it matters a lot that we are Impressionists. We want to paint using the colours of love even in pain. We want to pay for more even in loss. We want to recreate our dreams and repaint our sorrows. We want so much, yet a little bit of us lies between our work table. More for less.

Because some parents think that Cancer is a certificate to death, they abandon their suffering children. I recently found out that there isn’t any conclusive statistics or research done on number of children in Kenya suffering/dying from cancer or abandoned with cancer. However, I talked to Mr. Ithai Simon, in charge of Communication Affairs at Kenyatta National  Hospital (KNH). He confirmed that KNH admits over 500 children in all pediatric wards. At any one time, the hospital is caring for over 30 children abandoned children. Majority of those abandon are very sick or those with congenital deformities. He says, “KNH medical Social work keep contacts with home seeking for placement of these children. But there are limited homes for boy child  than girls. Majority (78%) of KNH patients are poor and cant afford the subsidised specialised healthcare. While KNH upholds the constitution on access to healthcare, the increasing no. of those who cant afford and do not have NHIF cover have increased the Hospital financial burden to more than 4 billion of debts.”

You can read these stories I filed from KNH on children abandoned with cancer

Also, find the below list of places/details, people with children suffering from cancer can get help. Please share. There is another way. Children, actually no one, deserves to be left alone.

  • Daisy’s Eye Fund

This organization is dedicated to bringing life and sight saving care to every child with the curable eye cancer retinoblastoma. They also offer families of the affected counseling service. Email: eafrica@daisyfund.org or call +254 720 729 936

  • Hope for Cancer Kids

The institution volunteer at the KNH Children Cancer wards by hosting parties for the children and buying them gifts and toys. They also help parent’s source funding to pay for NHIF. Email: info@hope4cancerkids.org or call +254 722 663 592

  • Keemokidz – Beyond Cancer

KeemoKidz is the only organization in Kenya, focused solely on meeting the emotional, social and financial needs of children diagnosed with cancer, from direct practical financial assistance to raising awareness and building capacity for the development of local treatment facilities and human resources. Visit http://www.keemokidz.co.ke, email sheba@keemokidz.co.ke or call +254 708 284 575

The Fund’s core mandate is to provide medical insurance cover to all its members and their declared dependants (spouse and children). The Fund is governed by the NHIF Act No. 9 of 1998. NHIF membership is mandatory for all Kenyan residents who are employed and have attained the age of 18 years. Call Toll Free + 254 (0) 20 272 3255/56 or email: customercare@nhif.or.keinfo@nhif.or.ke.

Provides information about available local and international medical treatment and offers packages to assist cancer patients in making informed health care decisions. Situated at 5th Ngong Avenue Office Suites, 8th Floor, Nairobi. Call +254 (0) 20 234 4295 or email: smasinde@akglobalhealth.com

  • Texas Cancer Centre

Texas Cancer Centre (TCC) Ltd is a leading private Cancer Care and Treatment centre in Kenya. They charge up to forty percent lower for services compared to other private hospitals, making it the centre of choice for many Kenyans. Email: texascancercentre@gmail.com or call 020 2623605

It’s Thursday. As soon as I arrive at the hospital, I know my 13-year-old friend; Paul Macharia (suffering from leg cancer) did not make it – his bed, located at the far left corner, is empty. For a second, my world abruptly stops and then my head starts to slowly spin.

Just a few hours ago, I was in town, running around like a headless chicken, trying to make sure I bought Paul everything he’d asked me to bring him. He wanted snacks, fruits, chips, Mbuzi Choma, toys and clothes “to wear when leaving the hospital” – he’d specifically requested.

Just a few weeks before, I’d met Paul (March 18th) during a visit to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) Children’s Cancer Ward while filing a story on children abandoned with cancer. We became friends by default. I was only drawn to him because he was too weak to get out of bed. And as the rest of the children took a drawing and colouring class in the playroom facilitated by my hosts, the Sarakasi Trust Hospital Project (STHP), he couldn’t join in, making me move closer to him.

IMG_0111After spending about an hour or two with Paul and Brenda, his art teacher from STHP, we all clicked as they painted some fancy birds. As the blinding afternoon light and Nairobi’s heat engulfed the ward, I suddenly felt like it carried with it a silent promise to the children of a brighter future. Paul was hoping to get out of hospital and go back to school … The boy was very inquisitive and bright. He wanted to know the origin of all the pictures in my camera, and take pictures with me. He caught me off guard when he asked, “So when are you going to come back and see me?” I promised, “Soon, I will communicate with your teacher.”

When I left KNH, I felt grateful, for my good health and family. I had found out that Paul had been abandoned by his parents. He told me they had never visited him since his admission to hospital. It’s a very tough conversation to have with a child. Later, Paul would have Brenda call me every day during art class sessions, asking when I would go see him and always reminding me to bring him the stuff he’d asked for. We passed each other messages and talked on phone once. But on the weekend that I was scheduled to go see him, I fell terribly ill with pneumonia. The following week, on Tuesday afternoon, when my Blackberry’s battery did the best it could to die, the boy had been trying to call me urgently. When I arrived home to charge my phone at about 5:00 p.m., I received seven notifications that he’d tried calling me using Brenda’s phone. On calling back, Brenda said, “It’s too late. Paul really wanted to talk to you urgently today.” I told her I’d be visiting him during oncoming weekend but she warned, “It might be too late, he seemed too weak today.”

I decided that I would go see Paul on Thursday.

Unbeknownst to me, the boy had died on that same Tuesday.

Back to present day: as Brenda and I stand next to each other at the ward’s entrance, silent, knowing too well why Paul’s bed is empty; one of the nurses summons Brenda after which she move towards me asking me to sit down. I know what she is about to say. I just feel like I should have made it on time. I start to wonder what I will do with the shopping and clothes I got him. One of the nurses calls me into the main office and tries to give me that mumbo jumbo counselling talk. But all I want is for them to take Paul’s clothes and make sure they get to his mother, who hasn’t yet come to the hospital since her son died. The nurses won’t take the clothes, because, they aren’t sure when and if the mother will come – they say. They give me her number to call and make arrangements but her phone is off.

Disappointed, I am standing at Kenyatta hospital, carrying a shit-load of stuff I don’t want to go back home with yet I don’t want to leave them with anyone if not Paul. The nurses won’t stop cajoling me to leave the stuff with the other children, “many are abandoned and orphans,” they bribe me. I don’t flinch. Just as I am leaving the nurses’ office, one of them suggests, “You can go see Paul at the morgue if you want.” After sitting with Brenda on the ward’s only bench for a few minutes, we decide to make for the morgue. A lot of people travel with corpses on Fridays to arrive to the burial sites by Saturday. Explains why, on this Thursday, we were met by a monstrous queue.

One queue is for paying about KES 300 to view the body, and the other is to get a number, to issue the morgue assistant to help identify the body. Brenda and I decide to take turns. I take queue number one (to pay). While she takes the last one, I sit on the wooden bench underneath the blaring sun. For the first time since coming to hospital, I shed a tear. I realize that I am glimpsing at life’s nothingness. I am looking at countless gloomy people, here to take their loved ones, one final time. Some women come out of the viewing room screaming and crying frantically. I start to freak out and text my sister Jackie, explaining my circumstance. She texts back, “Are you really sure you want to view a dead body? It will traumatize you.” Brenda is just about to get to the teller but I call her. She asks the guy in front of her in line to reserve the space. I ask her if she thinks we should back out … “No let’s just do it!”

When she gets back in line, she hears the guy she spoke to a little while ago, about reserving her position on the queue, say to the cashier, “Yes – Paul Macharia, that’s the name.” Brenda goes, “Hi – you know Paul? My friend and I are here to see him too.”

Turns out the guy has come (from the organization that had given Paul up for adoption) to represent the family and help with clearance. As the stranger walks away, Brenda calls me, pointing at him, “He’s here for Paul. Get his number!” I am so confused and in the moment, I lose him in the crowd. We sit on the bench waiting for our turn to be called by the morgue assistant to get into the viewing room and the guy just reappears from nowhere. We approach him and introduce ourselves properly. He says, “Even Paul’s mother is here. Let me just call her.” As he reaches his phone to call her, a friendly but shy-looking woman wearing knitted sweater despite the heat approaches us— Paul’s foster mother.

I can’t comprehend how we all just met miraculously, in such a crowded space.

We introduce ourselves to Paul’s mother as Brenda recounts Paul’s last moments. “On that last day, alikua amechoka sana. Alikua ananiuliza nipigie tu Anyiko, alafu vile hakushika simu, akaanza kuniuliza kama naona aki-breath. Mimi nikamwambia yeye ndio anaweza niambia vizuri, lakini alikua anaongea tu vizuri … (He was very tired and kept on asking for Anyiko. Later, he kept saying he was experiencing difficulty with breathing).”

The boy died on Tuesday, at approximately 5:15 p.m. soon after Brenda left the hospital.

Paul’s mother looks at us with gratitude so colossal, words can’t express. She smiles and says, “Nilijua alikua na marafiki na ni vizuri nimejua ni nyinyi.” Without a second thought, I know it is the moment to do the necessary. I give her all the bulky shopping I have been carrying around the hospital. I am still clutching onto the neatly wrapped funky jungle green African shirt and matching shorts I had got Paul at an Indian Shop inside Hilton Arcade. It’s hard to explain to Paul’s mother about the clothes but I try. “Mami, Paul alisema nimletee hizi nguo, za kuvaa akitoka hospitali. Ni bahati mbaya sikumpata leo lakini tafadhali chukua labda utamvalisha …” She takes them with open arms and blesses us: “Mungu awabariki!” We exchange numbers as they tell us of their intention to leave Nairobi with Paul’s body, same day. Just as they are leaving, the morgue assistant emerges shouting, “Watu wamekuja kuona Paul!!” We all stand still and look at each other. “Twendeni” I say … But the family (Paul’s mum and her sister) is hesitant. Together with Brenda, we move stealthily towards the small lifeless cold viewing room. Paul is at the corner, wrapped up in some dirty hospital clothes. “Songeni karibu m-confirm kama huyu ni Paul!” The morgue assistant prompts us. As Brenda and I move closer, I realise that Paul looks like he died peacefully. He just seems like he’s sleeping. Not scary. I also realize that his family are no longer in the room.

Are they abandoning him even in death?

My heart is at ease as we leave the hospital soon after. A few days later, I receive a call from Mama Paul. She tells me that the funeral went well and that she dressed Paul in the clothes I bought him. She says, “Ata kama Paul hayuko, nataka ukuje Nyandarua unione.”

IMG_0113BONUS: The guy from the morgue told me that Paul was an orphan who had been given up for adoption. He said that most of his older siblings had gone on to become chokoras (street children). Quite often I think about Paul and why his mother didn’t show him much love at the end of his journey. I have visions of Paul’s brilliant mind and for some reason, I feel like he would have become  a computer expert, had he lived on.

Writing this was a balance between thought and tears.

I keep wondering what Paul had wanted to say to me. Nevertheless, my heart has since found rest in my mother’s words of encouragement: “If you had gone to see Paul on Wednesday, you wouldn’t have met his mother. And maybe you wouldn’t have been able to leave his stuff anyway. If you had decided to go see him on Friday or Saturday, you’d have found his body taken. If you hadn’t decided to go to the morgue on Thursday, you wouldn’t have met his mum by chance. Lastly, if you had given in to giving out his stuff at the ward, you wouldn’t have given them to the mother later. Paul wanted his clothes and for you to meet his family, and it happened. You’ve done your work.”

Read the original story I went to KNH to file for UP Magazine: “A Visit to the Children’s Cancer Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital”

My Apology

As I gaze at lost scenes, in which we used to star in, and the things we used to do, I feel sad. I feel bad that we knew what it meant to love but never met each other half way across the journey. I am sorry I lost you. I am sorry you lost me. I am sorry you don’t see my beauty anymore. I am sorry I don’t see your charm, candour or through your eyes anymore.

Wu Tang 2Been wondering, how can music as an art, be equated to visual or tangible art. This is obviously something legendary hip hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, have had on their minds for a long time. News emerged last month that they are planning to sell just one copy of a new album. Their main muse is the fact that this century has seen music become way commercialized than any other piece of art. And sometimes, it doesn’t come back to the singers.

Art always seems to have an appreciating value. A few years ago, Intelligent Life announced that Andy Warhol had sold the most pop art than any other artists, dead or alive. But why is it the case, that for some music groups like SWV and TLC, one of the biggest selling girl-groups of all time, despite having reached the height of their career, at some point in their lives, their music continued to play on the radios and royalties were sent to ‘someone’ not sure who, but the singers themselves went broke, some even bankrupt.

Recently watched an Ashanti interview on Arsenio Hall, she was very serious while saying that most musicians are not making money off music anymore, and you are lucky if you receive royalties for song-writing like she does.

“The Wu – Once Upon a Time Shaolin” is a 31-track double album that the band is said to have worked on for the last six years. The album will be packaged in a hand-carved nickel box by Yahya, British-Moroccan artist. According to the album’s website, it will be “available for purchase and ownership by one individual only.”

After touring festivals, museums and galleries, for fans to catch a glimpse of the box and hear Wu’s music, the album will be ready for sale. However, the album’s website does not list an expected selling price, but the group are determined that shall they sell it to any one individual, they will be responsible shall it be exposed it to piracy and distribution.

Now that’s a tricky situation, hope they can earn several million dollars. In the mean time, closer home, I am really digging the fact that you can buy art work online in Kenya. Please save us all from waiting eagerly for Tuesday and Saturday Maasai Market. Interested in sharing some of the awesome things you don’t want to keep? You can Post ads free here

What are your thoughts about selling a music album as if it were one piece of art?

 

Chasing Shadows

Why must I see your shadow everywhere I go?

I spot a man in a well-fitting suit and think of you. I wonder what kind of style you dig; and if love is a type of ocean, how deep would you sink? Would you float in emotions and let it carry you away? I see a man in headphones and think of you. I wonder if I’ll forever be alone or like the music he listens to, soothes his heart; you will be to me, you will be mine. Like fine wine, I want a love that matures into fruition. I want a love that takes me to a place of no contemplation but satisfaction and guarantee that my partner will be by my side; to tuck me in, hold me close, make me tea, share everything; from life’s teachings and challenges to achieving the highest chi.

I spot a man holding his partner lovingly and think of you. I wonder what kind of arms and hands you have. I wonder if they are strong enough to shelter me from the storm. Are they able to carry me home when I am injured, hurt, lonely, troubled or in need of our silent and peaceful place? Your hands must be made to fit in mine, for I haven’t yet met someone whose hands locked in mine, felt perfect. I haven’t yet met someone whose love fused in mine felt absolute and doubtless. I think of your lips. How will they taste in mine? Maybe as fresh as our love or tasteless, for we will be one of the same in disguise of a kiss.

I spot a smart, caring, brilliant, supportive and understanding man and think of you. Are these some of your qualities? Are these the qualities that make a man? I need you to be more than these qualities. Your presence will be a rarity, for like a gem you must be; hard to find and hard to tap. Like a game I must be, hard to pin and hard to trap. You will be man enough to say you are sorry and man enough to prepare a meal for your lady. I will be woman enough to surrender to all your needs. Your first job will be taking care of me and us, before anything else. Your drive will be my passion and together with our love we’ll mould our relationship’s strongest quality.

For a brief moment human beings brush shoulders with déjà vu. All of a sudden, people, places and things start to exist within us. Like hues, we can see what can’t be touched. We can taste and tersely grasp at what we don’t have. In the moment, the dead come alive. We create new people. Unrequited love is requited. And lost ones like moments return. Nostalgic songs and voices become brand new—the magic hardly lasts. In this moment, the skies are blue and the breeze is whispering into my ear. In this moment I stop to gaze at the world. I stop to gaze at myself though the mirror. Inspired, I realize that I write you love poems, but you never read any. That’s just because I have met nobody but your shadow.

 

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