Monday, May 27, 2013

I dare you to be ambiguous/queer. Anywhere. Say may be in Kenya.

When I first tweeted #KOT (yes, if you don't get Twitter Lingo that's read: Hashtag, Kenyans on Twitter), and cc'd. Dennis Nzioka, Eric Gitari and many others at the beginning of May 2013, I was optimistic. No. I was, in fact, super excited. This was a few days before one of the most important dates on the LGBTI calendar. I mean, May 17th is phenomenal. Well, theoretically this should be huge. Anywhere. Everywhere. Can you imagine beating Medicine at scrapping off homosexuality from their disease/dis-ease list? I mean that was 23 years ago. Surely, we should be far in our thinking by now. Or shouldn't we?

Ok, I am getting derailed.

So, I was saying that I tweeted to check whether there would be any events scheduled for IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) in Kenya. Sometimes when I say Kenya, I just mean Nairobi. Sorry. And yes, OutInKenya did confirm that the Kenyan chapter of IDAHOT was in the oven. IDAHOBIT: Mbona U Hate?, they called it. So, this was good news for several reasons. Firstly, this was going to be my first major gathering with Queer folk in Kenya. Secondly, since I was going to miss the big ass Johannesburg one organised by my colleagues at Iranti-Org (!) and the FEW (Forum for the Empowerment of Women), I had to come up with a plan. Thirdly, I really really wanted to just hang out with non-conforming Kenyans. I wanted to forge friendships, find chosen family, dance with all the feminine gay boys, lock thighs with 'butches', transmen and the genderqueer. I wanted to be in the moment. I longed for this feeling. In Nairobi.

This was just perfect timing. I had christened the May 13 through May 17 period my Social and Economic Justice week. This was the same week  that 'Occupy Parliament' happened. Well, although I had to relive memories of police brutality, come to terms with my 'animals have a soul' mantra in the midst of all the pigs, rethink patriotism, law and order and unpack Kenya's general feeling of apathy, I was glad to be there. I remembered  that as a come-back protester in Nairobi, it goes without saying that you do not go to protest without water and a handkerchief. Yes, that includes a peaceful protest. It doesn't matter what you do; some running and tearing will be seen. No, not the famous kind of marathon running. A running of a different kind. Running away from [insert noun].

At 'Occupy Parliament' long before teargas and water cannons. May 14, 2013.

So when May 17th came, I was up. In time. I wanted to see everything. See queers catwalk into Freedom Corner (this should remind you of Wangari Maathai), Uhuru Park. I wanted to just get there and sit. Watching. So, by nine in the morning, I had my shorts, shirt, waistcoat and tie ready. Immediately my colleagues and I were in a matatu towards the City Centre. But firstly, I had to get my head in order. I had to, for solidarity sake, join other activists who had been arrested during 'Occupy parliament'. I had to first go to Parliament Police Station where we would be gathering as the police filed charges against us. Weird, ati being charged with "behaving in a manner likely to breach national peace"! Wow, do you remember Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi? Do you remember days that universities acted as the official opposition in Kenya?  This charge took me back to those days of assassinations, mysterious disappearances, burnt bodies in forests. Just oppression and repression. Fuck the new constitution. Or try telling Kenya Police that. What a bad start to an otherwise promising day. Well, I got there. I got involved in shouting matches with a number of people. I got to call a member of parliament 'stupid' and other obscenities. I was right though. I hated him. I didn't even know him.

Goes without saying, I didn't get to join queers as early as I thought I would. I got to Freedom Corner all the same, they were  there. Still. That alarmed me. Immediately. I saw a few policemen walking around the Park but nothing major was going on. The placards were ready. People had t-shirts on. They looked good. Some did. Others just made me sad. Just that disturbing sight of poverty and its associated stinks. So, yes, I was right, something was wrong. It was past noon, I mean! The police had decided, after a long process of consultation and required deliberation I suppose, to stop our marching through Nairobi streets. This, they said, would be tantamount to 'promoting homosexuality'! Somebody please shoot me. I mean, after seeing all these heterosexual people walk in the streets,  no one should be gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, genderfluid and I guess Intersex persons get conflated into this 'ish' too! I just got deflated. That made me mad. I was angry. I hated being Kenyan. Right at that point. I wanted to pack my bags and just leave. I wished  all queers could just freaking stop paying taxes and go. Away. Out of this flippin', freaking and f***ing country. Talking peace, all the fucking time. Peace for only the priviledged cisgender heterosexual male who repeatedly attempts to strip me in the streets, who has been raping women since peace-knows-when. The cisgender heterosexual male who still thinks saying that he will rape gay men is 'straight'!! I was pissed. Mad. Mad. Mad.

IDAHOT at Uhuru Park. Waiting for the Police to make a decision. Photo Courtesy: Liz Storer

So, in what looked like 'doing us a favour', the police allowed us to march within Uhuru Park and to the nearby Railways Club where our events would be running from. Next time I hear fascists scream 'God this, God that', I am gonna break a neck. This walk was sickening. To the core. Seriously. Well, may be not the walk itself but just that context. Firstly, walking only in the park made me feel like an outcast. It made me really sad. I had to, in that moment, cognitively push myself out of a Bipolar low. No, not now. I could not afford to relive my traumas. So, as we walked, I decided that I was going to have a silent protest. Alone. I decided to walk, silently, alone. Just me. I carried the smallest placard to express how insignificant I felt. I wanted to be swamped in this sea of screaming protesters and the obviously disgusted on-lookers. This God thing in my head kept ringing as people screamed at us: 'God created Adam and fuck-knows who', 'Look at you. Such beautiful women', 'You are all going to hell', 'We are going to kill all of you', 'Mashoga nyinyi kutombwa kwenye mkundu na wazungu' (I won't even translate this)....I was shocked. An idea came into my head though. Right at that point. I was gonna write something on my small blank placard. I quickly wrote, "God hates you too" (remember "God hates fags"?). I felt such hatred for all these people. I really did.
IDAHOT March at Uhuru Park. Interview with BBC World. May 17, 2013. My buddy, Daniel (front) wasn't leading the March:). Photo Courtesy: Liz Storer
Then just as these thoughts were stampeding in my head, there, some man from the sidewalk came after me and started spitting on me. Yes, spitting. The whole time he kept calling me 'shoga' 'malaya' and made references to how smart I looked yet my asshole was so dirty after years of being fucked from the back. He couldn't stand me. My sight irritated him. I was the most frustrating and embarrassing person in this crowd of Kenyans-giving-the-country-a-bad-name. He had to (re)act to my presence. God had called him to act on his behalf. He had to show me how disgusted he and God were. After his first spit, two more God-fearing  men joined in showering me with slime. Yes, I got the point. I was disgusting. To them. I was worse than everyone else threatening us with rape and murder. I was supposed to be really ashamed of myself. I wasn't.

I have seen worse. In this country. I walk away. I walk towards. Everyday.

Cowboy Boots

She had been packing up her bags
Not sure what time she'd check in
Finally she would be boarding
She just didn't want to
At least not anymore

And when she woke up that morning
She lay by her suitcases
With one arm on the zipper she saw a shoe lace
The forgotten shoe lace that she was gonna leave

Walking in those unlaced cowboy boots
She noticed how open her heart had been
And decided to open her feet instead
Just not to lace up her entire being
She had started to walk

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Please Indulge Me

For three sleepless nights
I wrote this one long letter to South Africa
I might have said way too much
But please do indulge me for a second

I wrote South Africa a letter
Telling them about those Jozi streets
Wet with that-ever-running-water from  uThixo-knows-where
Jozi streets filled with noise in accents not immediately placeable
The "abeg, mek you bring'am" requests
First heard in Lagos spreading across Calabar
into Bamenda and Buea
And now all too familiar to the Bameleke, Bassa and the Bamum

Welcoming you to the heavy  standard  English vocabulary
That betrays the roots of its Ndebele and Kalanga speakers
as they argue about the Zimbabwean man whose name I refuse to mention

I wrote a letter to South Africa
Reminding them of the many apologies
That they owe the world for the continued existence
Of that not-so-free state they call Free State

I reminded South Africa that they need to tell me
When exactly they were going to let Africa's non-people free
The men and women fleeing the Congo
Because daily, men at war are masturbating on each others egos
Uganda's  hyperfemme boys suffocating under Ssempa's armpits and Bahati's bum
The intellectual Kenyan mass who remain the glime of a country lost in itself

When, South Africa, I asked.
Are you going to start seeing the pain on the faces of your Black poor?
When do you intend to learn a language other than violence?

This letter I have been writing for three days
But I know I will not send it
I have no moral authority to question you dear South Africa
For the country I live in feels like a war zone
A country at war with itself

May be I will send it tomorrow
Yes, just may be
And mostly may be not!

Monday, May 20, 2013

#OCCUPY PARLIAMENT: Finding Self in the Collective

I have only been back in Nairobi for nearly three months now. It has been an interesting journey. From settling into a new job to having to find new friends, I have realized that either something has changed in Kenya or something has majorly shifted in me and the way I think of social relations. If the latter is the case, then I guess this should be understandable. I mean, com’on, who lives in South Africa and goes home the same? There is something about Johannesburg/Jo’burg/Jozi/ Egoli that just seems to allow for self-evaluation, self-discovery and all manners of self-things that may not be exactly open to public interpretation. So, yes, I am back in Kenya after more than six years.

I am different. I have been different for a while in fact.

Having left the country immediately after my undergraduate studies, you can imagine what has happened to my social life. I have no friends. But how is that possible for someone who was born in Kenya, grew up in different parts of the country and has family living in Nairobi? Is it even possible? May be it’s just that old age pattern that Kenyans who live outside the country –by the way being in Kampala for two weeks included– have formed. They come back with accents (except when they are from India), they dress differently, they don’t speak sheng anymore and they want to act like they are only visiting Kenya. Could that be what is happening to me? Where are my friends? How come they don’t want to hang out like we did before? No, I know my friends just too well; they wouldn’t do that to me. I mean, while I was away they always posted on my Facebook wall (that wicked cyber-place) about how much they missed me and how much they wanted to see me once I get back into the city! Well, this is the proverbial will with no way.

But I get them. I totally do. I mean they have kids now. They have jobs too. One of my friends even tells me that she has to ask for ‘permission’ from Baba B, also known as ‘my husband’ to join me for a Tusker baridi. Tjo! So, in my feeling lonely and isolated, I have taken to finding company on Twitter (disturbingly addictive & often fascist). I have this thing about civil action and I try as much as I can to partake in processes of protest and all sorts of direct action. But my kind of activism seems to have matured with time. From being a professional heckler to a now more analytical toyi-toyi-er, I am desperate for change. Change for hawkers. Change for sex workers. Change for women. Change for intersex persons. Change for differently-abled persons. Just change. Justice for everyone. The whole lot of us. And thanks to dear darling Twitter, I stumble upon #OccupyParliament and there I found it, just a few days before the agreed date, May 14th 2013. I found something that excites me. It is in Nairobi. I am in Nairobi. 

I strongly believe that Kenyan Members of parliament should not earn more than the Salaries and Remuneration Commission has allocated them. I think they are being too arrogant to want to disband the Commission. In fact, they shouldn’t even think of it. That would be unconstitutional. I want to ‘occupy parliament’. They must see us. They must hear us. We are marching for economic justice. So, #OccupyParliament it is. I will meet all these like-minded folks who believe in direct action. I will stop thinking Jozi and all the possible protests. I will not wish, at least for today, that I was in Jozi for Iranti-Org-led IDAHOT event on May 17th

I will be Kenyan. At least for a day. Today.


This is not the first time that I summon my heart
And I know I will do it tomorrow
Or may be not.
But that is just okay.

You see my heart has been in a constant whine
About all sorts of disatisfactions and lacks
my heart has been torturing me about my lack of eloquence
In whichever language

But how am I to say a thing
When I don't know how it is going to be
If only when I try to fix things, they became better
If only I was certain of how others feel
And if only people believed what I say
may be then, only then, I'd speak

Today at the meeting I told my heart to diss the nag
Because I would like to just reconnect
With the drops of rain hitting my roof so hard
I just want to rub my dog by the belly
And count the falling strands of his fur 

And in my silence I want to find myself
That old self that used to know 'I don't care'
I want to reconcile with that tongue
That first taught me to say 'No'
And together we can drop my heart at the panelbeaters

But I know this will not happen
At least not now. may be not soon.
For I know that I don't know how to be amorist especially with them
I worry 
about death
about pain
about life
about them

And even without listening to my nagging heart
I am insecure
And that is perfectly okay
We wait!

A Slice of Death

Why do you beat me up
If you are going to kill me

The kicks, whips, blows, slaps
keep coming. Flooding.

And bit by bit I have died
I have been dead to you
To myself

A part of me dies

So why don't you just kill me
Why must I die by the slice?
Why don't you do something else?

I wanna die. Once. And now.
You will kill me

Dear Heart

Today you are gonna sit here
Still. Silent. Only watching
Today you will try to get out of yourself
Gagged. Unable to speak
And in your silence you'll realise
That palm leaves aren't exactly linear and green

As you take your last step off the stoep
You'll erase that imaginary demarcation
Between the natural and that which art has made
And concrete will become a simulated whole
Of small stones beaten into partiality by water from below
And the blue summer skies that you see will soon be lost
In the greyness of rain clouds now in the horizon

Dear heart
Today you will just sit there
Not saying a word
And of course not dying

Let's see, dear heart

What  woould happen if you were to watch
Without a word
These white rose flowers blooming
Held by dying stems
Whose greenness coils away
Waiting for sunset

We shall have this conversation
Just me and you

Dangerous Wellness

For those of us who understand the brain
and the mind
Us who live in deficits and excesses
A feeling of wellness is not just that

Feeling dangerously well cannot last
In the too-muchness of our state
We know the excesses of excess
And we have come to live in fear
Of something awful
We wait