Kindness: Rays of sunshine on our paths through life motions

Human kindness is a ray of sunshine

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

In this final part of my reflections on the challenging period when we lost close family members two months apart, my dad and my nephew, I have been reflecting on the excellent community support. I would not be doing justice if I did not mention human kindness in weathering the storms and the lessons learned or affirmed through this period. In African culture, there is immense community support, whether in the village or the cities. My experience in both spaces (i.e., in the village for my dad and in Nairobi at my brother’s house) was excellent community support and human kindness. Of course, the first source of support was from the immediate family. I come from a large family, both nuclear and extended. We come together as siblings in big and small ways, and we did during this period.   We had constant guests and support through it all. I do not have words that would do justice to expressing gratitude for the support we received. The experience was a clear reminder of what it feels like to have others carrying you through when you do not feel like you have the energy to keep at it. On the other hand, I learned many lessons that will be life lessons and improve how empathetic I am in supporting others.

First, please, (on a lighter note) bread is overrated! My experience with bread is back to my university days, as it was the most affordable meal. I ate so much bread that I could not put bread in my mouth for a long time later! Bread is easy! When I think of paying someone an impromptu visit, bread! With bread, one will make tea, and there is a quick meal. But I have not seen as much bread (outside a bakery) as I saw during the mourning period. Everyone brought bread, and nobody wanted to eat bread. Okay, or only half of the people ate bread, and the other half brought enough bread to feed an army. We got so much bread that I will no longer carry bread to a bereaved home. I recall this afternoon when we were on calls, looking for the place to donate the bread, then a different group landed with a whole crate of bread, about 24 loaves of bread. To increase consumption, we tried to coax the bread in various forms, sandwiches. Well, there can be too much bread!

That aside, I reflect on the many lessons I learned during this period. Some were new lessons; others were an affirmation of lessons I may have underestimated.

Sincerity is not enough

I carry this phrase -sincerity is not enough- from an article I read a while back where the author explained that some actions with good intentions have a drastic impact. Sincerity is not always enough; one needs to be sure. I guess the near-equivalent is “ignorance is no defense.” The example in the article was when someone goes to the fuel station, and the attendant puts in the wrong fuel. It does not matter how sincere the fuel attendant was; the car will stall. I know that from firsthand experience when my petrol car got diesel! That story does not end well, but I digress.

I have observed that people’s intent on supporting someone when bereaved can end up causing more harm. At 18 years of age, I lost my older sister. It was the most devastating experience of my young life, and I made some enemies then. I recall an auntie who told me, “there is no crying here.” I looked at her and decided she was happy with her sister’s death. I did not forgive her for a long time. It was possibly over ten years later when I let go of the grudge and started relating to her in a better way. Mostly, or always people do not mean harm but do much damage. I learned different lessons from my experience and from reading books and listening to others on aspects that can cause harm. People fear sorrow and quickly push the bereaved not to express emotions. There is an unsaid rule that we can laugh loudly but should hide tears.

“Do not cry. It is okay.”.

Is it okay? For who exactly? Death is not okay; it never feels okay. It is a given, it must happen at one time, but that does not make it all alright. It is hard. Sad. Shocking. It is not okay. It does not feel okay. People being shushed from expressing emotions is still common. That infringes on someone’s right to express their emotions. In the African context, where community support is expected and often given, death and other events, happy or sad, are a community affair to a large extent. Sometimes in trying to help, one will get it wrong. Empathy is essential, and knowing what to say or do or not to say or do is critical. I appreciate that I experienced support during this period, and I know it is not always the case.

Small and big things matter

I recall this article I read a while back that stuck with me. The author received a devastating call. Her brother, his wife, and the sister’s children had died in a car crash. She needed to fly home as soon as she possibly could leave. As her husband booked flights, she was confused, moving from one room to the other. Then a neighbor came and said he had come to clean their shoes. The neighbor got to work and cleaned and polished every shoe. It may seem irrelevant, but when she needed to pack for her flight quickly, having clean shoes that she could throw into suitcases was important. At that time, she appreciated the clean shoes and the actions of the neighbor who stepped in to help without asking. Somehow that story stuck with me, and during the stormy moments, it resonated with me. A friend calling me to find out how I was or asking me to go for a walk were among the acts of love that made a difference, day by day. A friend took me for a walk, even when I did not feel like getting out of the house. I recall getting surprised at seeing some people I had imagined were only ‘online friends’ during my dad’s funeral or visiting our home. I was touched by the number of relatives and friends who found their way to my brother’s place to condole with us. The financial contributions went a long way. No action was too small to make a difference. The different actions of different people impacted me. I might not have thanked everyone for their kind gestures. But I am genuinely grateful.

A blank cheque may not be a cheque at all.

A black cheque has no signature; it is not helpful. Last year I was reading the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. The book narrates the experience of Sheryl Sandberg’s losing her husband, Dave Goldberg. She realizes that the first option- Dave- is no longer on the table and needs to find her joy. The book also shares different experiences of people going through adversity. One issue stuck with me, do not ask someone, “let me know if you need anything” or “let me know how I can help.” This is also the title of the article I referenced earlier. While that seems like an offer for help, it burdens the individual to look for the specific ask that s/he can request. It is easier to handle a more straightforward offer. When someone is in a challenging space mentally, making even simple decisions can be daunting.

An example is instead of asking someone, “what do you want for lunch.” They may not feel like eating, so they can easily say “nothing.” But if you narrow the options to “I am at a pizza place, which type do you prefer.” Even going further to indicate some 2-3 options is more helpful. The person may not have thought about eating pizza, but they can suggest one out of three options. And if they say “any,” you can take three different types.

I know it comes from a good space, but the many times when someone said, “let me know how I can help,” and that ended at that. There are those people close enough to us that it is easy to ask as we know how they can support us. One needs to understand some circumstances around you to see what you are able and available to help. For example, I called a friend when my dad passed away when I was in the village with my son and the nanny. I asked her to come to pick them up. She was in my village that afternoon, picked them up, and came back for me the following day. She has done that in the past, dropping my kid and nanny when I am away, so I knew she could easily do it. If she asked what she could do, I could tell her anything that needed action, and she could see to it or ask someone else to. Some friends could easily ask that question, and since I know the lengths we go to for each other; I could blurt out a request without much thought. Some friends offered, and that was very easy. Someone offered to support the purchase and transport of flowers, getting that off my plate. She coordinated and transported them. A friend called saying she was at the supermarket and asked if there was anything specific I needed. Another friend called asking if I needed any errands, and she indicated she was having a flexible day and could run around. I appreciated the specific asks. I have learned to be specific or not offer when I know I am unavailable or unsure of what I can do. Even those who just said, “I am praying for you,” that was enough. Sometimes when people are facing difficult moments, I say, “how can I help” and leave it at that. I have learned this is not exactly an offer for help.

Get involved, and engage whoever matters

In a community setting, gender, and age, among other characteristics, matter. People who are invisible under normal circumstances are even more invisible during such occasions. It is easy to ignore the roles of different people. Sometimes, people who need to be involved are not involved. I recall when I lost a cousin. During the planning meeting, I noted that the mother was aside, not getting consultations as the male members of the family made decisions. I recall stepping in and asking, “but what does the mother want” and asking that she be in the meeting. Some of the men at the table looked at me with eyes that indicated they had not noticed I was there. The women there were quiet, except me. Gender and other inequalities play out in such situations.

During the planning committee meetings, the Late Vincent’s friends approached us and requested to be more involved. We had not intentionally engaged the young people in tasks that mattered. I met with their team leader, asked about the roles they would like to engage in, and suggested what they could support. I must say, these young women and young men left quite a mark! I was impressed by how well they engaged in ‘getting their hands dirty’ and being part of the planning. It is easy to assume that the ‘urban youth’ do not like physical work or engagement. It is easy for young people, children, or women to be invisible on such occasions. I recall how,  the morning after agreeing on the tasks they could engage in; a young woman was at home by the time we woke up and asked what she could do. I thought she could wait until someone went to the market, then she could help prepare meals, but she volunteered to go to the market. The youth were engaged and active in supporting to lay to rest their friend. They engaged in different tasks with so much dedication. I was happy to know my nephew had such friends.

It is not about your personal comfort

When one visits a bereaved family, the intention is, or should be, to ease the pain of the bereaved, not the guest’s personal comfort. While hosting guests is expected, it is upon the guests not to prioritize their comfort. Food can, in particular, be a sensitive issue. I have heard different episodes around food that leave me surprised. I recall someone saying how when he had just buried his wife and left with three children under five, he had no idea what was happening around him. Sitting at a corner, a friend complained that he had not eaten lunch. Could he arrange it?

In another instance, a friend lost her mother at the height of the Covid19 pandemic. At that time, serving food was not happening, and there was a limit to the number of people. While walking back from the cemetery, my friend heard some neighbors complaining. They indicated how the bereaved family has resources and should have provided some cash allowance for the mourners to buy food. While supporting a friend who had lost a loved one, I remember someone fussing about food and eventually taking a plate from my friend, who we had been trying to coax to grab some food.

A while back, eating during mourning seemed forbidden in the Kikuyu culture. It seemed that we would think eating could carry bad luck. Our practices have evolved, and we now appreciate hosting and sharing a meal in joy and sorrow. That does not negate the need to remember it is not the visitor’s comfort. This is one time that hosting is not hosting per se where the host caters to the guests.

One experience stuck with me during the mourning period for my nephew. One person indicated they needed a different snack when serving tea and snacks. When the person serving offered the alternative snacks that were available, the guest wanted another snack.

There is the sunshine of human kindness

Overall, this period rekindled my hope and belief in humanity. Many things happen, good and bad. Sometimes one wonders if human kindness exists, and I know it does. It was humbling to see the extent people went to support us in different ways, and the warmth of humanity makes all the difference. No wonder Covid19 effect was even direr as the social aspect was threatened. Such experiences remind me that I have wonderful people around me. May human kindness give rays of hope in all situations.

A season, or just life (part 2)

When one must, one can. Charlotte Whitton

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and you do not know if you have what it takes to handle this. You do not even know if you have the energy to explore how to deal. Sometimes your best defence feels inadequate. But you know that you must strive to do whatever it takes. I found myself in that space, and I realize that when people have undergone a misfortune, the judgment on “they are strong” in handling it is often misplaced. When you must do something, you may get the strength to ‘deal’ with it, but you are just postponing dealing with the impact of the misfortune.

Over the years, I have discovered and explored different coping mechanisms or at least know how or where to ask for help. As I went through the motions of the anxiety of dad’s illness, I benefited from the different coping mechanisms; Prayers, meditation, breathing, long walks in the forest, eating, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, meeting with friends, and venting to a listening ear. I have a good network, and my great girlfriends did not tire of asking how I was doing. The Calm app, in particular, has become my best friend. That helped me maintain a level of sanity. On that fateful November 7th, 2021, Sunday morning, when my dad passed away, I did not feel like I had more arsenal for coping. Or possibly I did, and I went on autopilot as I knew I still had a lot to do and did not have the luxury of sitting back. Sometimes you feel like you have reached the maximum stretch and will break if you stretch further, there is more demand, and you stretch even further. I call it the elasticity of the human will.

It was a difficult period. But the sun kept rising and setting. How strange!

“How can the sun keep rising, as if every day was like any other day?” I often wondered silently.

A friend shared that during the period after she lost her dad, one of the hardest things was when it seemed everyone around her had forgotten this and expected her to be ‘back to normal.’ That was profound and resonated with me. My primary coping mechanism was ‘being practical’ and attending to what needed attention. When we laid my dad to rest, the impact started hitting and sometimes hitting hard. I got triggered by unexpected circumstances. Some, quite ordinary and minor, like seeing an old man and thinking, “my dad was much younger, healthier. Why did he have to die at only 82 years? This man looks close to 100 years.” Or, I could be in the supermarket and see a brand of herbal salt that he liked, and in the process, remember that he could no longer enjoy it. Sometimes it was a major issue like the insurance! That broke me. I could not believe the information they sought, including what I had already provided before, but somehow was not in their records. The insensitivity was on another level. As if that was not enough, my mum needed constant medical care, so only weeks after laying my dad to rest, my mum was admitted to a hospital. But as a family, we kept at it. When you must, you do. Friends and relatives came in handy and continued to support us in different ways.

Soon, 2022 was here, a new year with fresh dreams. After a challenging 2021, I was determined to get over the cloud by January and restart the new year. I said goodbye to 2021 with ‘an attitude. “You were the worst. You and I are done!”. That season was over. Or was it? Sometimes, when it starts to rain, it pours.

I needed a quiet time to restart my year, and what better place than the green, serene Subukia Shrine? I planned with a friend, and we went there for quiet time for two days. It was also a significant time. On that Friday, January 7th, it was exactly two months since my dad passed away. I felt like I had made peace with his death then, and despite having a weird feeling, I was all set to go back to work on Monday. Life must go on. We travelled from Subukia on Saturday, January 8th, 2022.

After refreshing from the journey, I set out for some idle entertainment until one of my sisters called. It was the kind of call where you wanted to find out more information and not pass unclear news. Our family communication chain is ad hoc but efficient. From around 5.00 PM, there were different calls and preliminary reports, and I had established my nephew had been in a road accident. I knew he would be okay, and I reassured my sister that it would be well. How wrong I was. The news of his death came as a blow, and I could not understand what one of my brothers was telling me.

“Apparently, by the time he was rushed to the hospital, it was too late.”
“What does that mean?”

Honestly, I did not understand what “too late” meant.

From different corners, in between phone calls, we started making our way to my brother’s place. The agony! I could wish that on anyone. My nephew, Vincent Ngugi, passed away just a day and two months after my dad’s demise. There were, and still are, no words to tell the dad or the mum, and I still do not have any words for them and everyone else. He was only 26 years old. Why? Why? We still ask. Another family chain was broken.

I recall when the young baby graced our household. I remember tagging along to pick him up, then a new-born from the hospital. How could I be writing a tribute for him? We all had and still have more questions and wishes but no answers. The strength that I had thought my quiet time in Subukia had revived in me dipped. Or maybe I needed that to get on with the days ahead.

The sun kept rising and setting!

For our family, it was gloomy. I kept hoping and praying that everyone had a copying mechanism because we were running on an empty tank. We still did what we could to support each other, but that did not seem enough. I recall sitting back and praying that this season is over. I prayed that we have a break from the sorrows and sadness—the losses.

The struggle of coping with loss and having different responsibilities is difficult. Looking for more ‘sunshine’ days was the order of life. We had sailed through the first Christmas without our dad only a few days before. We fondly remembered how efficiently Vincent had taken charge of his younger cousins as we all gathered at home in the village. How could I have known this was the last time I would see him? What words can one possibly tell someone who has lost a son? An older brother? No word seemed appropriate.

It was and still is an ongoing task, trying to sit with my pain and every time thinking, “how do I mourn the two people.” It is hard for the heart to comprehend. I kept hoping the “season” was over, then realized it was not a season but life. Sometimes life throws us curve balls. Some we catch, others we duck, and others, we barely know what direction they are flying from and have no idea how they hit us. Such is life, the thorns, and the roses.

A season, or just life (part 1)

“There is a season for everything under the sun—even when we can’t see the sun.”- Jared Brock.

Some seasons can be so long; maybe they are not just seasons. Seasons come and go. Life, life just is.

Photo by Fabio Jock on Unsplash

I am surprised to note that the last time I blogged was over one and a half years ago. While the season, or maybe just life, that I have experienced in the past one and half years ago usually would benefit from writing which I find therapeutic, I have not had the energy to try to express my thought on ‘paper. It has been an extended period. An extended season.  If I were to describe this period, I would call it a season of losses and lessons. At the beginning of 2021, the world was still actively battling the impact of COVID-19, wondering when this nightmare would end and looking for vaccines. I do not recall much about that period, but I know life started changing for my family.

But the most unforgettable will be that Sunday morning on November 7th, last year. Was it warm or cold? Did the sun even rise? I have no recollection of anything else on that morning. I vividly remember my older brother Martin knocking on our door and calling me. My mother taught us when she called; you made your way to where she was to find out what she wanted. We were not to ask, “what are you saying.” My brother calling me was strange. But not too weird. But why was he waking me up? Did he need us to do something for our mum? I asked myself as I, in turn, woke up my younger sister. My parents’ house is separate, so my sister and I prepared to get out to find out why my brother was calling me. My sister was faster in getting out. We had traveled to the village the day before.

I found my brother seated in the sitting room. He looked at me, but I could not figure out his expression. My younger sister was already sitting next to him, and they both looked somber. He did not say good morning.

“He is gone”

“What do you mean?”

“Dad is gone,” he repeated.

“What do you mean he is gone? Are you sure”

“Do you want to confirm”

“No, I can’t. But are you sure? We need to get someone to confirm. Are you sure?”

My younger sister pulled me to sit down. But no, it could not be.

I did not scream or cry, and I was on autopilot. That was an unexpected end to an intense six months of holding my breath and hoping for the best.

Just like that, he was gone. Another tough season was starting.

Last year my dad, who had been the epitome of good health, started ailing. I do not know when he got sick, and I do not think we will ever point to when he got ill. As a family, we had different experiences with my dad in good and bad health. He did not do sick, and he was not good at allowing people to take care of him. It was quite a ride for us when it was evident he required constant medical attention. Usually, he would agree to one medical check-up in a long time and not consent to further follow-up that he deemed unnecessary.

I recall a few years ago when I took him to a doctor. I do not remember what prompted that, but he agreed to see a doctor, which was a win. He underwent various tests and had a good discussion with the Doctor about his health and some behavior changes, including eating habits, as he was a poor feeder. I felt we had made headway and had an appointment after a month. But when I called him to book the monthly review, he was categorical that he was not going for another appointment.

“That Doctor is taking so much money for nothing, and the tests were costly. I will be monitoring vitals at the local clinic.” He said.

 That chapter was closed.  It did not matter that dad was not paying the bills, and we were not complaining.

Therefore, when he started ailing last year, looking and feeling weak, we had many incidences of him not returning to the hospital for appointments. He was assertive, so when he refused, we were at a loss and waited for another opportunity to convince him to go to the hospital. That would be when he had deteriorated and possibly in a lot of pain. He never mentioned even if one could see. When he agreed, we would ensure that one of us, siblings, could take him to the hospital. The worst case was when he woke up and asked someone to take him to the hospital. Then we knew he was in severe pain. The first time he was admitted last year, the first in many years, was because my brother, who had taken him, was adamant that he was not taking him back home. Dad had been reluctant of similar recommendations on previous hospital visits. He reluctantly agreed or somewhat bowed to the ultimatum.

The second time he was admitted, only a month later, he did not wait for Doctor’s discharge. He indicated he was leaving the hospital. I remember going to Thika early in the morning because one thing about him was that he was not patient with lateness. I was discharging him because he had insisted, and my sister had convinced him to spend the night for an early morning discharge. He did not understand why the hospital was keeping him waiting for tests. The Doctor reluctantly signed his release. In between, there were other outpatient visits and tests. The third and last time he was admitted to the hospital, in September, we had started getting some indication that he may have cancer, so we looked for an oncologist. By this time had lost a lot of weight, he could barely feed, and constant blood transfusions pointed to a deeper issue. The oncologist recommended immediate admission, and I remember feeling very relieved. My brother and I quickly agreed and started the process for referral to Coptic Hospital, which is not far from the Doctor’s clinic.

Then my dad asked, “do I have to be admitted today?”

It was about 7.00 PM. He could still not imagine being admitted, and we could not imagine him not being admitted. He was in the hospital for two weeks; this time, he was calmer about the experience.

It was a long journey. Or maybe a short journey. I was holding my breath on and on, calling home daily to find out how he was fairing. As siblings, we operated on autopilot, more focused on what needed to be done and constantly crossing our fingers that one or two people were available to do the logistics. We did not ask each other how one was doing, and I don’t think anyone had the mental bandwidth to hold the other. We did what needed to be done.

Sometimes we needed to take both parents to the hospital, but it seemed apparent that dad was deteriorating faster. My mum had experiences of ill health on and off, and we somehow know how to handle her

My dad took it in stride when the oncologist finally confirmed the diagnosis at the beginning of October 2021. We learned some terms used in tests and consulted Dr. Google during this period. I recall the oncologist telling me, “Sophie, just stop asking Dr. Google; ask me.” But we could not help it, sharing our ‘Dr. Google’s knowledge and seek more answers. We needed answers and hope. Accompanying an ailing person is arduous, and looking for information was not avoidable. The diagnosis – a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)-  was strange to my ears. I continued Dr. Google despite a real doctor’s advice, and when I read some of the “possible” causes, I concluded nobody knows about cancer. The risk factors did not quite align with my dad’s habits. What I could not, and I cannot reconcile, is that my dad, the most disciplined person as far as diet is concerned, got digestive system cancer. We will never understand, and maybe there is nothing to understand, just accepting that that was his portion in this life. It was an arduous journey for the whole family, and I cannot imagine the kind of journey it was for him. He never complained.

Going home had become a more urgent and regular affair. I would go home almost every week, sometimes in between the week. That Saturday, November 6th, when I traveled home, I knew he had been having a bad week. We debated as siblings if to take him back to the hospital. I was convinced he should go back, but I had no convincing reason. He had started on the Targeted Therapy. The Doctor was due to see him on Monday, November 8th. Nothing else could be done but to keep hoping the therapy tablets he was taking would be effective. But sitting back when a loved one is ailing is not an option. That Saturday morning, when I arrived home, he was sleeping. My brothers, who had traveled earlier, had called to inform us that he looked better and that there was no need to take him to the hospital. In the afternoon, I checked again, and dad was finally awake. I held his hand. He sat on his bed and started talking with my sister and me. I felt reassured. He was looking much better than he had in a long time. He had managed to take some food and do some things that he had not managed to do in the past few days. Some of the symptoms had eased a bit. We were pleased. Finally, the therapy was working.


“He is gone”

That did not make sense. He had been okay the previous day.

I can see the history of my chats with the Doctor on  November 5th when I was updating him on progress, and he requested to see him on November 8th. He did not make it for that appointment, but he made it for another appointment that none of us knew.

It was hard to come to terms with the loss, and I don’t think one ever does. I struggled through the December period.

We were starting the many firsts. The first Christmas without a dad and recalling the previous Christmas. By the end of the year, I was determined to find the energy to restart the year. I did not have much optimism, but I was still hopeful enough that the season of holding my breath was behind me. While grief outlasts the immediate period of loss, I was determined to be off to another season.

Even if I could not see the sun, that season was over. Or was it?

The problem out there

Every time you think the problem is ‘out there,’ that very thought is the problem.

Stephen Covey

It has been a difficult one year plus. The first time that news started spreading that there was a certain virus causing havoc in China many of us treated this as “their problem”. The problem out there? I mean how is China problem my problem? We have problems of our own in Kenya.  We forgot one thing. It is a global village. That is one thing that the virus has proven just how interconnected we are. Considering that everyone who has contracted the virus must have come into contact another human being infected with the coronavirus, it is profound just how social human beings are, how much we interact.

Shortly the virus started spreading in Europe and US, and we started thinking “it is a white person’s problem”. When the information about COVID-19 was scarcer, I recall discussing with some colleagues and thinking “well… this virus is not affecting African countries.”.  In fact, I recall us saying “it is more among men. white, and older. So, us young(ish) black women must be safe!”   I kept wondered why our organization was flagging international travel to be halted when we could still do our workshops in African city.

Shortly we heard there was a confirmed case in Africa, in Egypt. “Well, this is not East Africa; and the infected are not Africans”. And the denial continued. By this time with the ongoing communications in my organization I had started accepting COVID-19 reality and I sounded like a pessimist in my circles when I kept talking about this not well-known virus. Sometime in March last year, I had a dream. Yes, a dream. There was a COVID-19 outbreak in Kenya, and we were all in masks. I was going to see a friend in hospital with many people sick. I shared with some friends my fear and they quickly dismissed; I mean that was the most logical thing to do. “We keep up hope, this virus will not come to Kenya”. And keep up hope we did. The virus was still “out there”. Two days later the cabinet secretary for health gave the breaking news “first case of COVID-19 had been reported in Kenya”! And that was when reality started sinking. Nobody was safe.

But well, there was still hope. Those travelling were the ones getting the virus. I recall hearing some justifying that those of us with passports deserve to get it more than those who had never been outside the borders. After all, “this was a foreign virus”. I was grateful that unlike previous years, 2020 had limited international travels planned for me. Part of what I had desired in 2020 was to travel less! Oh, the prayer was answered! And not in the way I had expected. Simply zero travel.

Shortly after we started getting the “community transmissions”. Well, that was a “Nairobi and Mombasa problem”! Many said. Others were even more specific, that this was a problem of “the rich people in Nairobi”.  When some measures were put in place, to curb the virus early last year including curfews and cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi there was a kind of division with “Nairobians keep the virus to yourselves” mantra.  Eventually, the virus infection was reported in all counties in Kenya. People in the village started hearing of someone infected or dying of the COVID-19.

We are now at the “third wave” and seeing online posts can be depressing seeing many mourning losing loved ones to COVID-19. Also hope seeing others praising God that finally they are out of hospital. Many are still struggling for oxygen in hospitals. The “problem out there” has become a problem in every household, among friends, among colleagues and neighbors. I am not sure anyone can say they do not personally know someone who has been infected with the virus. Unless in denial, highly unlikely. This does not mean the attitudes have transformed… there are still denials and possibly the thinking that “it is out there I am safe”.

We do not know how long this quagmire will last. And it is not unique to COVID19, many times we dissociate with issues, refuse to address them because we think it is a problem out there. As Stephen Covey puts it, thinking it is a problem out there is actually the problem. When you think an issue does not impact you, then you will not contribute to bringing a solution to address it. As the Kiswahili saying goes Mwenzako akinyolewa wewe tia maji. (meaning when your companion is being shaved, put water (on your head), be prepared for the same fate as your companion). As long as we are on this earth, we have a role, in making life a better place, and making contribution to resolving /addressing problems before they escalate and even if they do not personally affect you. I think that is the humane thing to do. Caring about what happens to your neighbor, is part of caring for yourself.

Women, hair politics and choices!

A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life – Coco Chanel. 

Marvelous things happen in the bathroom! Whether taking a shower or in a bathtub or using a basin, it is the one place where there is a high likelihood (likelihood 😊) of being alone in your thoughts. Many of us read and check phones while in the toilet, but that cannot happen in the bathroom unless you are soaking in a bathtub over a glass of wine. Well, I digress. Let us just say that when water is running down your body in a shower, many brilliant talents get nurtured, and many will only dare to sing when they are in the shower. For me one Saturday morning in September 2020, while water was running down my head, through my sister-locked hair, I had an aha! Moment. “Why not cut this hair?! Wait, yes! I could shave this hair and not worry about re-tightening. Just like that, I decided. I am quite a decisive person and I can decide at the spur of the moment and rarely have regrets. Or as we say in Kiswahili, kama ni mbaya, mbaya (If it is wrong, too bad) The physical distancing and masks among other recommended behaviors around COVID-19 had made life more challenging. As the cabinet secretary for health repeatedly said, we can not afford to “live normally or the virus will treat us abnormally”. I had struggled with hair management and even considered a DIY (do it yourself) but realized this is not my skill. The loctician used tocome to my house, but that was no longer a straightforward decision for me. After agonizing that week on how best to plan to have my hair re-tightened, the bathroom moment felt like getting out of slavery. Why was hair holding me at ransom?

It was a simple decision for me to make. However, what was interesting were the reactions I received. Most people got surprised or annoyed at My decision to cut My hair. Notable outliers were my 11-year-old niece Bakhita and my friend Rahma. It excited Bakhita that her aunties (my younger sister joined in the decision 😊) had cut hair, like her. She had the most beautiful long hair when one day about two years ago; she stepped out of a salon into a barber. (Let the records show I in no way influenced that decision). She has never turned back! She attempted last year, then decided her short hair was more peaceful. Rahma amused me “I have seen your hair in all stages. Long permed hair, in braids, in traditional locks, short natural, in sister locks and now even shorter. It has been nice in all phases.” Well, it is true my hair has seen different days.

The reactions got me thinking, why is there such politics around women and their hair? Why should hair decisions, especially cutting hair, be an issue that requires a hair-steering committee? I reflected on my experiences with hair growing up.  

Having long hair was an important measure of beauty and as young girls, we were socialized to believe that hair, long hair represents beauty and girls needed to “look beautiful” however much pain it took. Having short hair meant you were “like a boy” who wanted to be a tomboy? This is in a community where taking care of the same hair was a task and an expense that was not a priority. The irony.  Our typical African hair was kinky and tough. It needed a lot of TLC which was difficult to get. We would make small knots and use thread to make it just a little bit soft and manageable. This made little difference, coarse is an understatement! To straighten the hair, we would use a tin that had holes percolated at the bottom and use hot charcoal as the ‘blow drier’ and cooking fat as the hair oil. Woo unto you if (or rather when) the smaller hot coals fell into your head!

The school required you to be “neat” hence a need to undo and plait the hair often. It was hard to get someone to make the hair as there were few hair salons but also, there was no budget to pay for such ‘nonessentials. You depended on the goodwill of your mother or older sister or neighbor if they had some basic skills in this. Many times, my mother would get annoyed at this task and threaten to shave your hair. It was a genuine struggle and among many other tasks she had, maintaining hair of her daughters was a tough call. Other times I recall my auntie coming to visit and helping to plait the hair. When you were lucky to have your hair plaited, you endured all the pain! Not a wince or you would get threat of facing a pair of scissors that was always within reach. No pain, no gain.  

We knew that very well, so you sat in between the legs of whoever was plaiting you and tried not to wince and persevered. Other times after roaming around holding the wooden comb and no success my mother would take a pair of scissors and quickly shave off the hair! That was traumatizing! You felt like a piece of you had been cut off… yes actually apiece of you(r hair) had been cut off and in a haphazard style. One desire growing up was being able to make decision about your hair and having long hair.

High school represented another journey into the hair political movement. There were chances that you joined a high school where long hair was not allowed! Even some primary schools have rules as to how your hair can be made including if to have locks or not! I was happy that my alma mater Alliance girls (I went to… lol) allowed long hair. Too date the rule remains, having hair open on Sundays and only up to eight plaited lines. I saw different journeys of hair in high school. Some girls who came with about 1 inch or hair had long hair falling down their shoulders by the time they finished high school. The struggles of maintaining the hair continued as this is in a cold environment so having open hair did not work for all hair types. However, there was more power in decision making as some girls plaited for a fee or free of charge and it was easy to get the basic products for hair when in high school. More so it meant you could make decisions about your hair and cutting was no longer a threat. Come university and the freedom was more! With more pocket money for the first time, I permed my hair! That was an exciting hair moment. I could finally afford the products and could watch my hair take different shapes, curls, and waves.

After campus and into young adulthood, the hair politics changes, it was now more of what I desired more than what I could afford. I maintained my permed hair until I turned 40! I am not sure if it was the 40’s and pregnancy or a combination but or the first time I made a decision to shave my hair to the shortest length I had had since primary school. It was interesting to see my head in short hair. That was also a moment for me, for some reason it was like “breaking lose” and breaking the rules.  Since then, time my hair has seen more phases and styles! I even had traditional locks (aka dreadlocks) for about 8 months that I untied. I then had sister locks since January 2019. Now in July 2020, let us say… I have shortest hair I have ever had since teenage. Ah now in braids 😊.

Hair for women tend to have many ‘political’ connotations. In some cultures, a woman can not shave her hair unless there is mourning. In others, there is relation to spirituality. In some cultures and religions hair is covered. It represents some cultures for example traditional locks. Hair is also economic venture! Some women can not make ‘radical’ decisions without consulting their significant other.  In some cultures, children get hair shaved at a certain age as a ritual.

Well, it is never “just hair” there is a lot of politics on hair.

The girl that I knew

She was only 13
Or maybe she was or 12, or 14 or 15 years old
It does not matter,
Oh it matters
She was a child

I knew her as a class mate.
An older girl, I thought.
Sometimes I admired the older girls
They seemed to have more confidence
Or maybe not
Tishala was not very confident
The teachers made fun of her
She was not “bright enough” in class
The boys made fun of her,
She was not ‘cool’
Classmates avoided her
She was smelly
Her confidence waned
Poverty did not allow her to afford good perfume
Or water to bathe everyday
Or clean underpants every day
And who took care of her?
Did everyone not see
She was a child

Tishala is pregnant!
Tishala is an embarrassment
How could she get herself pregnant?
Everyone seemed to ask
I got confused,
I did not realize anyone can get themselves pregnant!
Those terms were never used
She was to blame
Despite that she was a child.

The girl I knew,
Was a friend.
I did not visit her home,
or meet with her parents
But she was a friend
We were in the same class
Only that mattered
And she had a good heart
She made me laugh
That is all that mattered for friendship
I was a child
She was a child
Our friendship was easy
For we were children

Years later, realization dawned on me
She did not get herself pregnant
May be she was raped
Or maybe she was sexually exploited
In exchange for some perfume
Why did nobody mention this possibility?
Why did nobody treat her as a child?
Why did she lose her right to education?
Why did nobody mention
That she was a child

This year as we commemorate #16daysofactivism
I dedicate my thoughts to girls like Tishala
Girls who lost their life’s dreams without any support
I stand with her
I stand with girls struggling to claim a space
I stand with girls abused and rejected
I stand with girls who do not have someone to tell them
You are a child!

This girl that I knew,
Motivates me to do my part
She never escape my mind
It has been so many years
She is now an adult
Possibly with daughters of her own
Or grand daughters
For their sake,
I wake up each day
Determined to do my part
To make my little contribution
In the life of such girls
And to get inspired by the power of girls
I stand with her
And deserves to be treated
As a child

Sophia Ngugi, 2019

Share your commitment to stand with women on @WorldPulse:
IStandWithHer #16Days #LogOnRiseUp

Her tomorrow, brighter than today

I quickly looked up from my phone to meet the deep gaze of this young girl. She hesitated at the door, then stepped in. Uncertain but bold steps. She looked fearful. She must have wondered why she had been summoned to the head teacher’s office. I saw myself in her. I saw many girls that passed through that school for years. The colors of the school uniform had not changed. I was reminded of how timid I was at her age.
“How are you? I greeted her as I extended my hand. She shook my hand, smile almost appearing on her face, then it was gone.
“Fine” she whispered barely audible.
I looked at her torn sweater. Her creased dress. Her fearful face, almost teary. I was there for a positive mission, but it was not easy to get a smile on her face. Her voice quivered, and I wished I can hug her, but the hand shake seemed to have been quite a task for her, I gave her the personal space she needed. Listening to her narrate her day almost brought tears to my eyes. But I have learnt to not show pity when there are tears in the heart. She needs to see hope not pity. I smiled encouragingly, as I listened to her talk about her daily chores. She is not just a statistic, she has a name, a face, a life but let me call her Imani. Imani is a Kiswahili word for faith. Looking at her it struck me that those deep eyes reflect not just sadness but a lot of hope and faith that tomorrow holds a better future.
This girl struck me deeply because I can see myself about 30 years ago, wearing the same color of uniform in the same school. My mission to my Alma Mater Mang’u Primary School in the rural Kiambu County in Kenya is not a task but a personal mission that I take seriously. I have walked and driven into the school gates with different categories of individuals, some not from the area at different times over the past ten or so years, and sometimes alone. Interacting with the girls and boys gives me different perspectives and every encounter leaves a mark. May be they think I am doing them a favor in mentorship, but I often feel it is the other way round, I am getting a favor of engaging with these girls and boys and sharing in their space, in their dreams. While different social and economic aspects leave the girls and boys in this and other public rural primary schools disadvantaged, the life of a girl remains precarious. Imani represented to me is the face of the girl in that school and other girls in the rural Kenya. It reminded me of the life I had as a girl and how other girls, now women experienced life back then. I kept reflecting on realizing how lucky I had been.
Imani wakes up early in the morning to prepare her younger sister for school. She is the eldest child at home at only thirteen years old. She clarified that she is not the eldest as her 21 year old sister is married with two children and her older brother is away from home. In a rural household, there is always an ‘acting first born’. As a girl she takes over the roles of her mother sometimes. In Imani’s case, she is lost her mother at a young age, so she takes over the roles more times than not. Her father struggles to provide for the family and performs many of the traditional female gender roles. On many occasions, he wakes up and leave the house at the crack of dawn to seek the casual labor. He has no regular income, and the casual labor is often on the basis of “first come” so he needs to be there very early to ensure he gets a job. If he gets some work, he is assured of food for the family that day. Some days he is not lucky. Imani and her siblings have learnt to take a day at a time. They do not complain if there is no food.
Well, hunger knows no boundaries, and for a young person the pangs must be even more severe. How can such a young girl learn to ignore hunger pangs? I silently wondered.
“Well, sometimes there is only so little that I give my younger siblings and a little to my father so that he gets more energy to back the following day to seek some employment’ She added, her face looking more mature than her thirteen years.
She fumbled with her hands, a young girl who has had to grow up too fast and already prioritizing other persons’ needs. Her future is pegged on decisions around her life and accessing education is one core need. It becomes tricky when her access to education is compromised or made difficult by experience in school, at home and her immediate environment. This is the story of many girls her age and the seemingly minor decisions can change their lifetime forever. Imani’s life can pan out very differently depending on the opportunities that are accorded her.
I reflected back on girls I schooled with, and how some decisions changed the course of their lives. The earliest recollection I have is of this girl who was my classmate when we were in lower primary. Many years later, the image is still vivid because I was somehow linked in her story. We were about eight years old. A boy from the neighborhood was sent to pick me from home back to school. In the lower primary, we used to be in school until 1.00PM. My mother wondered what was the problem and the naughty boy said he did not know as he smiled sheepishly. I put back my uniform and ran back to school. I was summoned by a group of three teaches who asked me if I had taken money from the teacher’s purse. This girl who I will call Riziki had said that she saw me put my hand in the teacher’s handbag during break. I could not believe my ears! My head felt very hot and I burst out in tears. My family did not have any allowance for vices like stealing. It was the first time someone looked at me on the face and accused me wrongly. When I look back I believe the teachers knew she was cheating because they quickly dismissed it and concluded I was innocent. I do not recall what proof was there or Riziki admitted to it, but what I recall is how she was paraded in front of the whole school. Her mother was called and she went ahead to disown her and cane her in front of the whole school, “as an example to other kids“. The mother literally disowned her and allowed for boys to taunt her. It was the ugliest scene I had ever seen. I cried along with her, despite the fact that she had accused me. That was the last day for Riziki to be in school. I do not know what became of her, but I know life was not kind to her after that. She lost her dreams of making it in life, just because of one mistake. Was the money worth her lifetime dreams? I still feel bitter when I recall this incident.
I recall in teenage years, girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy or embarrassment related to adolescent changes especially monthly period when they stained their dresses. It aches when I realize that those girls were around 13 or 14 years. At no time did the issue of them being children and having being sexually abused get a mention. The girls were termed as being “bad girls.” I recall countless number of girls who dropped out.

When I look back, I realize that I and several other girls narrowly escaped and many girls are not that lucky. Decisions by caregivers, parents, families, teachers and their own decisions and choices shape their future. I hope to walk with Imani a few more steps. I do not know what the future holds for her. I do not know what the future holds for the African girls. I do not know what the future holds for the girls in the world. What I know is that we have responsibility to walk with the girls, and enable them be the GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable and with that ensure that there is sunshine in their future.
I celebrate the girls who are waking up and finding a tiny smile, whatever their circumstances. I know they have what it takes to make a very bright tomorrow possible and create their feminine chiefdom. GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable! Like my friend AW like saying, Girls rule the world!

TIRED. I am tired.

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former”. Albert Einstein

I am so tired.

For quite some time I have not blogged. Blogging helps me unwind and it does not mean there have not been many things I want to unwind on. In fact, there has been too much, I am just tired. It takes me back to many experiences I have encountered and more, in particular, this young woman…

Many years later, I keep thinking, what happened to her life? Some experiences stick in the mind for years to come.

I have worked on different programs in the social work field, and encountered many women and girls, with diverse experiences. This girl comes to mind ever so often, because I feel like I let her down. I was a fresh graduate from college in my first job. It involved engaging in life skills sessions aimed at preventing HIV infections among young people. It was in the early 2000s when the rates of HIV infections was quite high and many cases of orphaned children. I was not trained in counseling then and obviously felt inadequate. Maybe I am starting with a disclaimer to explain my inaction, or my “not enough” action. While doing the life skills education sessions in one school, this girl came to me. . Let us call her Lakeisha. She wanted to share her experience and seek support. She was being sexually abused by her uncle. The uncle was a pastor, ‘well respected’ man in the village. Lakeisha was about 16 years old, in high school and an orphan. Following her parents’ deaths, the uncle had been ‘generous’ enough to take over paying school feels for her and her siblings and their upkeep. She was the first born and with four other siblings. The uncle was the well-off person in the family and they depended on him for their daily ‘bread’. Did I mention he was a pastor, and ‘well respected’ in the family and community?

With the little I knew then, I explored with her what options she had. Her main worry was that (1) nobody will believe her and (2) her siblings will be thrown out to the streets. What options did this young girl have? I spent some time discussing with her and she felt her options are non-existent. Her auntie was an only option and we explored if she could tell her auntie. However, she was not sure how this would work out since the only safe space was her maternal auntie who may have been seen to be interfering. She was not able to take the four children in as she was struggling herself. This girl had really thought about her options and felt stuck. We explored and I was feeling more and more desperate as the options became less and less. By the time we parted she wanted me to follow up with her but that was not possible. I was not likely to go back to that school. I suggested to refer her to someone that could walk with her but she was not comfortable with this or to speak with her guidance and counseling teacher. In other words, by the time I left her, there was no end in sight or a good enough avenue for her to explore.

Over 15 years later, Lakeisha crosses my mind. What happened to her? Did she finish high school? Did the violence stop? Did she ever report? Did anyone believe her? Is she even alive? What about her siblings, did the younger sisters fall victim to the same? Was the SILENCE EVER BROKEN? How many more girls was this man abusing? I feel sad even as I write this.

The reason this come sot mind so strongly right now is because of what has been happening in Kenya of late. It is clear that material and financial support is becoming a justification for much evil and this is specifically when women are the recipient. It is clearly misogynist thinking. It is the same thinking this man had to sexually violate his niece. He was paying school fees he had rights over her body! Many are wondering why this is a “gender issue”.

Stay with me in case you are wondering.

I am tired of what is happening in my country Kenya and many times as I try to put something down, words will fail me. I start and stop. I feel I do not have enough energy to engage in the issues. Since last year, there have been so many cases of women murdered by intimate partners. It is like every day you wake up to a new story. They have become stories. Statistics. Sensational past times that we engage in and forgets. Data. Stories that are told retold and we move on. They make news and headlines and then we move on. Even grosser, some people think it is something fun to do a ‘fun challenge’ around it! It is insanity. Is this what Albert Einstein had in mind when he said that humanity has a large threshold for stupidity? I cannot start to summarize the ‘stories’ that have been prominent in the recent past. Just thinking about it makes me feel so tired so I have been quiet about it. I feel like shouting at the top of my voice then wonder who is listening. I read comments on social media and I lose the desire to live in the country. Maybe if I disengage from Kenya it will hurt less?

As I was speaking to a group of women yesterday, and giving them an assignment to journal their experience I found myself questioning my writing block as I spoke. I have not been able to write, every time I think of writing I get too angry to put anything down. I decided to put action into my words. I am trying to find words on something that is so annoying it eats at my core.

This is what is most annoying. The script is the same.

A woman is murdered by a man known to her. Or the suspect is a man known to her. The stories that are spewed start justifying the murder on several stereotypes.

She asked for it…

One would think that by 2019 we have got over this. Blaming the woman. But no. All the cases involve blaming a woman for the murder. She is to blame because in one way or the other she provoked the man. He did not have a choice, in other words, he has no self-control. The woman should have known better to avoid whatever annoyed the man enough to cause the murder to happen. She should not have taken any money from the man. I have not seen any indicator that a gun was held to a man’s head for him to remove his wallet. In which world do we justify murder? Not in self-defense but cold murder? In Kenya, it is a thing. Patriarchy has a way of rearing its head to blame the victim and of late it has come to a new low. Many responses are ‘advise to young women’ to keep off men with money. It is very sick that the older person (the man) is excused and the young woman blamed. Many reasons are given to justify why the man murdered the woman.

He was taking care of her financially or took care of her financially …

This has been the most spewed excuse. Somehow there has been this accepted notion that if a man makes any financial contribution to a woman (real or imagined) then he has rights over her liberty, her body-mind, and spirit. He gets the rights to her and if she says no, then he owns her and can take away her life. And many will not bat an eyelid with diverse expressions of this notion. First of all the same human beings that are justifying this will be up in arms if any woman expresses a desire not to have bride price as a ritual for their marriage. I do not share the opinion with many people on bride price with the “it is an expression of appreciation” line and all. I respect those who love the practice for whatever reasons. This is my way of looking at it. The main difference between the so-called “man was taking care of the woman financially” and the current practice of bride price is that in the latter the family of the woman, not the woman herself benefits from the monetary and other material ‘appreciation’. Is it any wonder that many men will feel justified to have a right over the woman’s body, sanity and liberty just because they contributed some materials for her? If contributing finances and materials is enough justification for murdering her if she does not toe the line, there is no reason the same will not be said of bride price. There have been many cases where “but I paid bride price” is used. So much for an “appreciation gesture.” That is very clear in my head. That does not mean it should be or it is justified in any way. It just means that there are many misusing the different practices to further subdue women. I recall we were having lunch with some group of women and men and a discussion on gender came up. I expressed my shock when waiters give back the balance to the man even when the woman had paid the bill. One man who had been expressing how gender sensitive he is and how he practices it in his home and workplace said “it is surprising that nowadays we have men who allow women to pay bills. In our days we would mobilize as the man at the table and pay the bills.” He could not see his contradiction. Well, there would be others like him who will not hesitate to say a woman should not pay a bill but will go ahead and call the same woman a ‘gold digger.’

I have seen many comments online that imply that if a woman has received materials from the man then it opens door to the possibility of violence. This makes it very warped up thinking in a society where the exchange of gifts (like bride price) is sanctioned and treated with high regard. It is the double standards that support one thing and at the same time uses the same to blame the victim.

Back to the financial aspect brought up in these murder cases; it implies that any money that one gives must be paid back by having the person on the receiving end having no say over her life. Since I started working, I have used the money, my hard earned money on many people. I contributed to the education of several children within and outside of my family. Do I have a say over their lives because of this? Absolutely not. I cannot even ask them to be my house worker or nanny during their holidays. I do not own them! They do not owe me. In fact, some of them are no longer in touch. There was no time that anyone put a gun over my head to remove a shilling from my pocket. If I take out my wallet and pay for a bill, pay school fees or medical bills it is well and good. There is no way that translates to ownership over other people’s lives. On the other hand, in such cases, this would be a mutual relationship where each person is having a benefit of whatever they get from the relationship. It is insane to equate material and financial support to rights over someone’s life. It is a gross violation. On the other hand, none of us know the nitty gritty of the relationships and the dead person cannot give their side of the story. For all we know, the stories are fake. But the tellers of the stories know how to get sympathy. I am tired of living in a community that thinks “I gave her money, she did not pay back in kind, and she dies” is a logical statement.

Women are luring men …

This has been said over and over for ages it is even annoying to try and engage with it. I do not know the world where there is a category of human beings that are lesser than or equal to animals; they cannot control themselves and somehow another of the same species have the power to. The double standards are so rampant. One of the owners of this world is that even if the woman is about 20 years younger than the man, she holds more responsibility for her actions!

Boundaries and saying no is something I learned when I was a teenager but it seems many skipped that class.

Lastly, while I feel exhausted emotionally and physically, I am encouraged by the category of women and men I see on social media who are condemning these kinds of attitudes with the kind of terse language they all deserve. The horrible attitudes seem to dominate, maybe because it is shocking to imagine there are some human beings with that kind of reasoning, but I take encouragement from knowing there is the category that is on the humanity path. Maybe there is some hope in humanity. Maybe a few of us can keep at it, keep pushing even when it is so very hard. There are many good-willed Kenyans and the world condemning these heinous acts. With all understanding, there is a lot of “supposing she is your sister or daughter”. The personal is political so it is a bit easier to put things into perspective when we empathize or own it. However let us remember that a woman does not have to be A SISTER, A MOTHER… FOR HER TO HAVE RIGHTS. SHE IS A HUMAN BEING. FULL STOP.

Let us say NO to violence because she is a HUMAN BEING. Let us get tired of these pretense and misogynistic tendencies.

From a distance

“From a distance, the world looks blue and green and the snow-capped mountains white….
From a distance, you look like my friend, Even though we are at war…”

So the words of the (once) popular song go.

agriculture clouds countryside cropland
Photo by Ákos Szabó on

I have mixed feelings about traveling by air, sometimes I wish that there are options for flying and not water. There is an assurance in feeling your feet are on the ground, not floating in air or water. Long road distances are not appealing either nobody has discovered the alternative yet. There is a kind of vulnerability and surrender that one is left with when flying. When the plane gains speed on the runway, my mind hums, “no turning back”. take off feel so final so you surrender and get swallowed into the skies, as you stare at what you are leaving. When on the ground, the skies are a welcoming, tranquility. The clouds are a maze of soft and warm cotton wool seamlessly gliding in a rhythmical dance. I enjoy gazing at the clouds. More correct, I used to enjoy. There never no longer time to gaze at the skies these days. Call it adulthood! There is much fun when you are pre-adult and with less care of the world.

As a child, I spent hours staring into the skies, sitting or lying on the ground, I watched the skies as clouds danced and slithered to meet each other. There were different images as my imaginative mind could create. When lying on the ground staring at the skies, the clouds look calm and peaceful. From a distance, there is perfect harmony.  That is until you are up in the skies and you appreciate the bumps that the clouds cause. When flying clouds are no longer gorgeous, no matter how alluring they look from the ground. Instead, they are menacing.

white concrete house near body of water under white and blue cloudy sky
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

The most magical moments when flying is when you are almost landing, low enough to see the ground but high enough you enjoy the scenery. No matter which place you are landing in, if not a water mass looks beautiful. If during the night you, the bright glistening lights will greet you. The cities look very organized and peaceful. The green vegetation looks serene. Even refugee camps look organized and homely. From the skies, you do not see any unruffled feather, but when you land life changes!

The blaring horns, busy people running and moving in different directions, dry hungry land welcome you. There is organized chaos at best. The reality sinks in, that what looked perfect from a distance is not as perfect. On a recent trip, watching the enticing scenery  I realized, it is the same with life. From a distance, things look more put together and sometimes getting the ‘inside story’ serves as a reality-check moment.

This is not a pretense, but that not everyone will be privy to your inside reality while other times people prefer to keep up an appearance. In other cases, the short moments spent with people does not offer the chance to scratch beneath the surface. Children are a perfect example. When one says they slept like a child, many parents will roll eyes and wonder “which child?” Many children who seem very peaceful at one time but brats in another moment. Many children sleep very peacefully for few hours, and when they wake up, the whole household and in some cases neighborhood is treated to a screaming show.

As adults, we have learned more skills in hiding behind the curtains and letting the world see what we are happy to reveal. I enjoy listening to people’s stories, understanding the journeys they have undertaken in life. It is always revealing when I hear the behind-the-scenes stories. When looking in from outside, some individuals look quite settled and unruffled that it is easy to imagine that they have had everything handed in a silver platter. That is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading biographies, as this enables one to see the human part of a person. Some families, marriages, jobs look like the perfect fir yet when we hear the inside story, it is no longer bliss. It is like watching a finalized theatre play. The many hours put in place before the D-day are unknown to the audience, as actors effortlessly rehash their lines. The ‘shoes you walk in’ are unknown by many people who may think you are having it very easy. It is only when we peel the outer layer that bonds are formed and true friendships thrive. It is that moment that we appreciate that things are not always as they seem.

I still want to admire the scenes from a distance. I enjoy watching the sceneries and the beauty they represent from a distance. I want to receive the meal at the table in a nice restaurant without seeing the mess in the kitchen with sweaty cooks and oil spills. One sure way of losing one’s appetite is peeking into a restaurant kitchen! I give it to the restaurants with a semi-open kitchen. Last year while on a work trip I was in a guest house that left a lot to be desired. The place looks beautiful and well-kept from a distance and being a new facility where the paint has barely dried, it looked perfect. However, all was not well but what broke the camel’s back was entering the kitchen. Luckily we could move from the guest house to another facility. Some things are better left to be admired from a distance.

However, I want to be able to peel masks with those who are close to me. I want to know not just what makes one tick, but the tears behind the smile. It takes a lot of strength and trust to be vulnerable.  We are not perfect and feeling that undressing the masks will not be judged is life-giving. That is what makes life interesting!

Despite how things look from a distance, there is a story.