I have been having this conversation in my head for quite some time now. I swear there was a time I had all the perfect lines to express whatever I wanted to write, but those were the times I looked all over for my pen and didn’t find it; and when I found it, my fingers were too sweaty that the pen slipped away with all my perfect words.
Today, I decided to give it one last shot. So, here we are.
A couple of months ago, I cleared school amidst all the cheer and excitement. It was a relief. Like a huge burden had suddenly been lifted off my shoulders. Six years of a lifetime over which I had made great strides were finally behind me.
Fast forward to a month later when I landed an internship opportunity at an exquisite organization. An organization that put its money where its mouth was; an organization with a reputation that preceded it.
I don’t know whether I was excited, or it was the people around me that were excited.
“You’re lucky. People rarely get such opportunities immediately after their last exam”, one of them said.
“Try it out. It may be a blessing in disguise”, added another.
“You are always lucky”, said that guy that always thought I was his girl in his dumb mind.
Then my mother. I still remember her excitement over the phone.
Me: Mum, nimepata internship.
Her: (Sighs) Thank goodness. Nilikuambia wewe ni mwerevu utapata tu kazi.
Me: Sio kazi mum. Ni kama attachment.
Then I went about in circles trying to explain to her that internship was a job, but not a job again, but sometimes it can be a job. I literally just confused her.
Her: Even still. Pengine watakupea kazi after one month.
Her: Kua obedient. Watakuchukua.
There and then, I regretted having told her all that. I knew she would keep her hopes high and bug me all the time with phone calls asking when they’ll be taking me in.
You see, my mum is one of those parents that worry too much about their kids. She is a complete opposite of my father. My father is rarely attached, or so it seemed:
Me: Daddy, nimepata internship.
Him: Haraka aje? Wapi?
Me: Huku tu.
Him: Mtakua mnafanya vitu gani?
Me: Satellites. Rockets. Engineering tu.
I was allowed to be that vague with my father. But my mother worries too much about the diversity of this world. She hangs on a ledge hoping that things will always go well for me. No, she doesn’t hope. She worries.
She worries that I am a woman in this world where no one knows what the future holds. She worries that I am a writer. She worries that I listen to myself a little too much. She worries that maybe someday I’ll ditch engineering and become a full-time writer; that I will write too much and get myself into trouble. She worries that I’ll break away from societal norms one day.
She worries that I am her child; that somewhere within me lies a portion of her.
She doesn’t tell me all these. I read them in her words.
Her: Hiyo ni nini umeweka whatsapp?
Me: Ni kitabu mum.
Her: Ni wewe umeandika?
(My mum’s head tells her I can write a whole book, publish it and fail to inform her…:-))
Me: Hapana. Ni Rafiki yangu.
Her: Wenzako wanaweka picha mbona wewe unaweka vitabu?
Me: Mimi sio wao.
Back to my internship, I listened to people’s voices and decided to give it a shot. But one month into it, I almost beat myself up for putting myself into all that.
No, the job wasn’t the problem. In fact, maybe it will remain to be the best thing that has ever happened to me. It was breath-taking spending the whole day analysing satellites, blackholes, galaxies and rockets. I came close to understanding why people associate complex things with rocket science. Yes, I loved everything about my job.
I was finally an engineer.
The problem was the environment.
When I first came here, I was met with news of unavailability of fresh water, and the fact that fish was the only available food. I sulked. Still, I knew I could make it through. So, my life turned into a routine of carrying fresh water from my work place, approximately one kilometre away, not to mention the struggles of getting pale yellow Sukuma wiki once a week if you were born lucky.
All through, I persevered.
But no one told me I would be the centre of attraction in the whole community. No one told me that people would occasionally make up ugly songs every time I made my way through the market place. No one told me there would always be a stampede every time I step out my house dressed in trousers.
No one told me I would have to get used to stares. Not the usual stares men subject us to because one day we woke up feeling girly, put on our yellow fluffy dresses that left them lusting at us. No. these were stares that vaguely implied I was an outcast. I was an unwanted foreigner. Stares that seemed to get a glimpse of my soul; stares at my clothes that apparently were out of their norms.
So, one evening in the office, I find myself at the centre of this conversation:
Person 1: (To me) You know the people around here are not comfortable with the way you dress.
Me: Which people exactly?
Person 1: The community around.
Me: What exactly is wrong with my dressing?
Person 1: I don’t know. They’re just saying they don’t like it.
At this point, I almost threw in the ‘don’t look if you don’t like what you see’ phrase. But then again, bowing down to such sort of criticism was something I wasn’t ready to do. I believe I am the kind of person who knows when my dress is too short for public display.
Person 2: But I have never seen anything wrong with the way she dresses. What is all the hype about?
Me: So, what is their point?
Person 1: (Laughs) Probably tie a leso around your waist.
We laughed out loud. We laughed at how obnoxious the idea was; at how belittling the whole conversation was. We laughed because we knew I’d have to live with that ‘burden’ for the rest of my time there. We laughed because there was no point in making people happy at the expense of our own comfort.
You see, no one told me that I would come face to face with the threat notes that are slipped under people’s doors at the wee hours of the night. Notes slipped by people who were cowards on the inside but brutal on the surface. People stripping you of humanity and baying for your blood and flesh. God knows the number of tears I shed that night as I read the paper loosely held between my shaking fingers; the number of people I called because I was terrified, the number of times I prayed for a quick dawn.
Still, no one told me that people would burrow peep holes on my bathroom door and feed their thirsts for human flesh every time I showered; people who up to date I have a feeling they are potential rapists. I have never felt so used, so covered with dirt and darkness. I still their eyes every time I look at myself in the mirror.
Not even my tears could wash away the pain and humiliation. So, believe me when I say it is in this place that I realized rape was a reality.
No one told me that one day, on my way home from work, some stranger would hurl a stone straight to my forehead; that he would burst out laughing and the people by the roadside would just sit and watch.
No one told me it would be that hard.
Tomorrow is my last day here and I can’t help but ask myself why I held on for so long, when it was easier to just walk away. I ask myself why I put myself through tasking situations that seem to drain away all the purpose from life.
Then again, I like to think that I was meant for this; to walk right through fire, get burnt but come out fresh and stronger. I am a ‘stay put’ person, a ‘don’t give up’ person, a deep person.
I can’t stop my inward self from crying. I am crying because in the midst of all this, I found out that I am unstoppable; that every time I am broken I come back rejuvenated. I cry because in the heights of this storm, the universe brought me brighter days, brighter people and brighter life.
I have learnt to look at myself through a broken mirror and still see the beauty I am.
I am crying because I leave behind people who held my hand at my lowest moments, dried my tears and taught me how to overcome. These people approved my decisions.
Better still, I leave with memories of a life well lived because well, no one told me.